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D OD01 


OUTPOST OF EMPIRE BY Herbert Eugene Bolton 






These are BORZOI BOOKS, published by Alfred A. Knopf 



The first American saga 



The first American saga 

newly translated and interpreted 

Thompson Professor of Scandinavian Languages 
University of Wisconsin Illustrated by 



1942 by Einar Haugen and Frederick T. 
.GJiapman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be 
-reproduced in any form without permission in writing from 
the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief pas- 
sages or reproduce not more than three illustrations in a 
review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper. Manufac- 
tured in the United States of America. Published simulta- 
neously in Canada by The Ryerson Press. 




The American public has too long been led to believe, in 
the words of one obscure writer, that the Norse claim to 
American discovery and exploration " rests entirely upon 
tradition, poetic legends, and some slight circumstantial 
evidence/' This view has been encouraged by the fact that 
most of the books which have been available to the general 
public on this subject are uncritical and wildly specu- 
lative. They use the known facts as springboards for 
imaginative flights and produce a justified reaction of 
skepticism in many of their readers. Those tomes, on the 
other hand, which present the facts solidly and without 
exaggeration are usually too learned or inaccessible for 
general reading. Through the agitation of various writ- 
ers and Scandinavian groups in this country, a consider- 
able interest has been awakened in the subject. But one 
is hard put to it when the request comes for further infor- 
mation. There is genuine need for a book that will pre- 
sent in readable form the text of the sagas dealing with the 
Norse discoveries, and sift out from the enormous schol- 
arship of the subject those facts that seem well-established 
and give them a proper setting. It is hoped that this need 
may in some degree be met by the present book, which 
was made possible by a group of book-lovers and book- 
makers in Chicago banded together under the name of 
" Holiday Press." 

The reader should be triply warned before entering 
upon the Saga of Finland. 

vi Foreword 

First of all: this translation is a new one, made directly 
from the original manuscripts of the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries as reproduced by A. M. Reeves. It was 
made for the members of the Holiday Press with the inten- 
tion of rendering the old sagas as vividly and understand- 
ably as possible to modern readers. Samuel Laing's trans- 
lation of a century ago, which appears in the Everyman's 
Library, is antiquated; Reeves' translation of 1890 is stiff 
and unreadable; G. Gathorne-Hardy's of 1924 is readable, 
but distinctly British in idiom, besides being the property 
of the Oxford Press. A new translation could be justified 
only by the need for bringing before the American public 
a clear, concise, readable version in the modern American 
idiom. This saga is the earliest document of American 
history, and if for no other reason, it deserves an Ameri- 
can version. 

But if it is done into modern American, one may ask, 
are we not violating the spirit of the medieval documents? 
This might be true, if they had been a part of the romantic 
tradition of the Middle Ages. But the family sagas of Ice- 
land are deeply rooted in the realism of everyday life. 
They are plain, unadorned tales told by simple folk con- 
cerning authentic events in the lives of their own ances- 
tors. Their style is straightforward and unvarnished, for 
they were spoken before they were written. Many trans- 
lators have outrageously violated their spirit by turning 
them into romantic, medieval English, as if they were 
tales of King Arthur and his noble knights. The sagas 
come from another and humbler sphere: they are the 
stories of sailors and adventurers, merchants and farmers, 
shepherds and fishermen, told with the humor and the 
simplicity of the common man. We who live today can 
best enter into their world if they are allowed to speak to 
us in the simple, direct accents of our own day. The trans- 

Foreword vii 

later has not sought to vulgarize them by making them 
slangy or jocular, but has used modern and colloquial 
idioms wherever these seemed to render the spirit of the 

Where Laing translated, " Now we have two occupa- 
tions to attend to/' and Reeves wrote, " We will now di- 
vide our labors/' this translator says, " From now on we 
have two jobs on our hands/' Where Reeves translated, 
" The wind waxed amain/' this version puts it, " A storm 
blew up." According to Reeves, Leif says to the straying 
Tyrker, " Wherefore art thou so belated, foster-father 
mine, and astray from the others? " The hearty Leif would 
not have recognized this artificial speech as his own; he 
simply said, " Why were you so late, foster-father, and 
how did you get parted from your company? " It would 
not have occurred to the unlucky Thorvald to speak in 
these lofty terms: " I counsel you now to retrace your way 
with the utmost speed." His speech is simple and unaf- 
fected: " I advise you to make ready for your return as 
quickly as possible." 

Another step in making these stories presentable to the 
lay reader has been the harmonization of the two versions. 
We shall get no real feeling of the impression made on the 
Norsemen by their discoveries unless we allow the two 
versions to supplement rather than contradict one an- 
other. In the opinion of the present writer both of them 
go back to men who were familiar with the original events, 
and each has preserved certain facets of these events. So 
they have here been combined into a coherent account of 
the Norse discoveries somewhat in the manner of G. 
Gathorne-Hardy's version. The manuscripts have been 
closely followed, but certain episodes and statements that 
would only confuse the lay reader have boldly been omit- 
ted, while valuable items from other sources have some- 



times been inserted in the text. Any one who is interested 
in re-examining the problems of the text will in any case 
have to go to the magnificent edition of A. M. Reeves. Our 
interest here has been to weld out of the manuscripts a 
true Saga of Vinland. In so doing we are not far from the 
practice of Iceland's ancient saga scribes, who listened to 
different versions of the same story and then used their 
own judgments in creating a coherent, probable account. 

A third step in making the saga acceptable to the Ameri- 
can reader has been our policy of treating the rather diffi- 
cult Icelandic names. One of the most discouraging aspects 
of the sagas to a modern reader is their extreme fondness 
for lists of names, many of which sound alike and confuse 
the story. Here, again, consistency has given way to the 
needs of the reader. Some of these names have long been 
familiar in English, and have acquired traditional forms. 
It would be foolish to write Olafr or Thorr, when these 
are well-known under the simpler forms of " Olaf " and 
" Thor." ' 

The name of our hero Leif has aroused more ardent 
controversy than that of any other character. The form 
here presented is Leif Ericson. Some of the other contend- 
ers, all vehemently championed by various schools of 
thought, are Leifr or Leiv for the given name, and Erics- 
son, Erickson, Erikson, Eriksson, Eriksen, or Eiriksson for 
the patronymic. Most of these bear the mark of modern 
Scandinavian sound developments. For our purposes the 
only real problem involved is this: shall we retain the 
original form of the name unchanged, or shall we give it 
a more acceptable English form? In Old Norse it was gen- 
erally written Leifr Eiriksson, though Hauksbok is the 
only one of the three manuscripts of this saga that does so; 
AM 557 4to writes Eireksson and Flateyarbok dEireksson. 
But the name Eirikr was borrowed into English a long 

Foreword ix 

time ago in the form Eric. Through long usage this form 
has become as natural to English as Erik is to modern 
Scandinavian. In English, also, the ending -son is always 
added directly to a name, without intervening s. This 
leaves us with only two choices in English: either the origi- 
nal Leifr Eiriksson or the anglicized Leif Ericson. All the 
other forms are based on modern Scandinavian speech 
habits and have no special relevance for English. But just 
as Christopher Columbus bears a traditionally anglicized 
name instead of his original one, so Leif is best presented 
in English form. The needs of the reader are best served 
by a form that rolls most easily from the tongue, when this 
is one that does not violate the spirit of the original. It is 
hoped that this form may be widely adopted, to eliminate 
the confusion which drove the Chicago Park Board, in 
desperation, to choose one of the least appropriate of all 
forms, the strictly modern Dano-Norwegian Eriksen. 

Other names ending in -son have been treated accord- 
ingly when they occur in the old saga. Such a form as 
Bjarni Herjulfson is therefore to be understood as a short- 
cut for " Bjarni, Herjulf s son," which might have been a 
better English rendition except for its awkwardness. The 
old Norsemen regularly identified themselves as sons of 
their fathers, a practice which still flourishes in Iceland. 

A great many placenames and nicknames consist of ele- 
ments whose meaning is completely clear to any Scandi- 
navian, but which are merely a jumble of meaningless 
letters to an American. Whenever such names could easily, 
be translated into a similar English form which would 
give them some of the vividness in English that they have 
in Icelandic, this was done. Instead of 0xna-Thori we 
have written " Ox-Thori," for Furdustrandir " Wonder- 
strands," for Haukdalir " Hawkdale," and for Breida- 
fjgrdr " Broadfjord." This we have not done for Finland, 

x Foreword 

Markland, and Helluland, because these are well-estab- 
lished in English and not difficult to remember. Names 
which would sound awkward in English translation were 
usually left in a form approximating that of the Icelandic: 
Brattahlid, Sudrey, Hraunhofn. One name has been de- 
liberately changed in spelling to avoid a common mispro- 
nunciation: *' Karlsevni " instead of Karlsefni. 

The poems which appear in the text are of an exceed- 
ingly intricate metrical form which could not possibly be 
rendered into comprehensible English, and any English 
versification that might be adopted would sound false. 
Hence the poetry has simply been rendered into rhythmic 
prose and set up in lines like those of the original. 

In all aspects of translation our principle has been one: 
to produce an accurate and readable version of the ancient 
saga, by drawing upon the labors of specialists for the pleas- 
ure and benefit of interested amateurs. With this brief apo- 
logia we are happy to present: The Saga of Finland. 


SECTION I. The Saga of Vinland 

i. Eric the Red settles in Greenland 5 

ii. Bjarni Herjulfson glimpses unknown shores j 

in. Leif Ericson at King Olafs court 1 2 

iv. Leif Ericson explores Vinland 17 

v. Thorvald Ericson goes exploring 26 

vi. Thorbjorn and Gudrid emigrate 33 

vn. Gudrid and the witch 39 

viii. Thorstein Ericson looks for Vinland 45 

ix. Karlsevni and Gudrid are married 51 

x. Karlsevni leads an expedition 54 

xi. Karlsevni meets the natives 66 

xn. The sad fate of Bjarni Grimolfson 79 

xin. Freydis seeks her fortune 83 

xiv. Karlsevni and Gudrid return to Iceland 91 

xii Contents 

SECTION II. The Evidence of History 
A Commentary on the Saga of Vinland 

Adam of Bremen 97 

The learned men of Iceland 101 

Viking traditions 105 

The two versions 112 

The Land of Eric the Red 117 

Voyages to Vinland 125 

Where was Vinland? 135 

In search of relics 146 

Results and significance 160 

Notes and References 173 

Index follows page 181 


Bjarni Herjulfson sights new lands in the West 9 
Leif Ericson sails off to explore the lands seen by Bjarni 15 

Eric the Red falls from his horse 19 

Tyrker the German finds grapes 23 

Leif rescues fifteen persons from a reef 27 

Death of Thorvald Ericson 3 1 

The burial of Thorvald at Crossness 3 5 
Gudrid sings the magic songs for Thorbjorg the Witch 41 

Thorstein Ericson foretells the future of Gudrid 49 

The Scottish runners Haki and Hekja 5 5 

Fish are caught in pits at high tide 59 

The Skraelings exchange furs for strips of cloth 63 

The Skraelings taste milk for the first time 67 

The Bull terrifies the Skraelings 69 

Freydis defies the Skraelings 73 

Battle with the Skraelings 77 

Freydis upbraids her husband, Thorvard 81 

Freydis murders the -women of the expedition 85 

Through torture Leif learns of Freydis' guilt 89 
Gudrid with Snorri, the first white child born in America 93 



Chapter I 



At Jadar in Norway there lived a man named Thorvald, 
who was the son of Osvald, the son of Ulf, the son of 
Ox-Thori. He had a son named Eric the Red. Father and 
son fled from Norway on account of a killing, and took 
land at Hornstrands in Iceland, on a place called Drangar. 
By this time Iceland was well settled. After Thorvald's 
death, Eric was married to Thjodhild, a daughter of 
Jorund Ulfson and Thorbjorg the Shipbreasted, whose 
second husband was Thorbjorn of Hawkdale. After his 
marriage Eric moved away from the north of Iceland, 
cleared land in Hawkdale, and settled at Ericsstead near 

Then Eric's slaves caused a landslide to crash down on 
Valthjof 's Stead, a farm owned by one Valthjof. Eyolf the 
Filthy, a relative of Valthjof s, killed the slaves at a place 
not far from Waterhorn. For this Eric killed Eyolf and a 
man named Raven the Fighter. He was prosecuted by 
Eyolf s relatives, Geirstein and Odd at Jorvi, and they got 
him banished from Hawkdale. 

Eric then seized Brokey and Oxney, two islands in the 
mouth of the fjord, and lived the first winter at Tradar on 

4 Voyages to Vinland 

Sudrey. Here he lent his neighbor Thorgest some hall 
beams [the end pieces of a raised dais along the sides of 
the hall]. Later he moved to Oxney, where he built a farm 
and called it Ericsstead. He asked to get his hall beams 
back, but was refused, and so he went to fetch them him- 
self at Breidabolstead. Thorgest pursued him, and they 
fought near the farm of Drangar. Two of Thorgest's sons 
fell there, and some other men besides. After this both 
Eric and his enemies kept their farms well-manned. Eric 
was backed by Styr, by Eyolf from Sviney, the sons of 
Thorbrand of Swandale, and Thorbjorn Vifilson. Thor- 
gest's backing came from the sons of Thord the Yeller, 
Thorgeir of Hitterdale, Aslak of Longdale, and his son 

The case came up at the Thorsness Thing session, and 
the Saga of the Ere-Dwellers tells us that there was a huge 
crowd. Styr was Eric's special helper in court, and did what 
he could to draw men away from Thorgest. He begged 
Snorri the Chief not to help Thorgest's men pursue Eric 
after the session. For this he promised to help Snorri some 
other time, if Snorri should ever be in trouble. Eric had 
his ship ready to sail in Eric's Bay. The court outlawed 
him, but his friend Eyolf hid him in Dimun's Bay, while 
Thorgest's men were out with many ships hunting for 
him among the islands. 

Thorbjorn and Eyolf and Styr accompanied him out be- 
yond the islands, and there they said goodbye to him with 
the greatest of friendliness. Eric assured them that he 
would repay what they had done for him, if it lay within 
his power, and if they should ever need it. He told his 
friends that he planned to go in search of that country 
which Gunnbjorn, son of Ulf the Crow, had sighted when 
he blew out of his course to the west of Iceland. Gunn- 
bjorn had seen some rocks, and they were known as 

The Saga of V inland 5 

Gunnbjorn's Reefs. Eric declared that if he found this 
country, he would come back and tell his friends about it. 

Eric sailed from Snowfell-Glacier, and first sighted A D 
Greenland at Mid-Glacier, where there is a peak known as 082 
Black-sark. Then he sailed southwards along the coast, 
trying to find a livable spot, until he rounded the southern 
tip. He spent the first winter at Eric's Island, midway in 
what was later called the Eastern Settlement. The follow- 
ing spring he made his way to Ericsfjord and there took 
land for himself. That summer he spent much time ex- 
ploring the uninhabited lands to the west, and wherever 
he went, he gave names to the tracts he visited. The second 
winter he lived at Eric's Holm off Hvarfsgnipa, near the 
southern tip of Greenland. The third summer he went as 
far north as Snowfell and entered Ravensfjord. He said 
that he got as far as the head of Ericsfjord before he turned 
back and spent the third winter on Eric's Island at the 
mouth of the fjord. 

The next summer he returned to Iceland, where he 
landed in Broadfjord, and spent the winter with Ingolf at 
Holmlatr. In the spring he fought once more with Thor- * r\ 
gest, but was beaten. After that a truce was patched up *, 
between them. That summer Eric sailed away to colonize ' 
the country he had found. He called it Greenland, because 
as he put it people would be more anxious to go 
there if it had an attractive name. He told people that it 
was admirably suited for settling, and that it was richly 
endowed with nature's gifts: there was a great plenty of 
game including seals, whales, walruses, bears, and other 
animals. In this way he tried to persuade people to settle 
in the new country. 

Eric made his home at Brattahlid [Steep-slope] in Erics- 
fjord. It is said by learned men that twenty-five ships sailed 
from Broadfjord and Borgfjord in Iceland during the 

6 Voyages to Vinland 

summer that Eric settled in Greenland. But only fourteen 
of these ever reached Greenland, for some were driven 
back, and others were wrecked. That was fourteen [or 
fifteen] years before Christianity was made the law in 

Chapter II 



Herjulf was a son of Bard, the son of Herjulf. He was 
related to that Ingolf who was the first settler in Iceland, 
and who had given Herjulf s people land between Vog 
and Reykjaness. Herjulf lived at Drepstock with his wife 
Thorgerd and a son named Bjarni. This Bjarni was a 
talented fellow and from early youth his thoughts had 
turned to the sea. His trading voyages won him wealth 
and honor; before long he mastered a ship of his own. 
He made it his custom to live with his father in Iceland 
one winter and sail abroad the next. 

During the last winter that Bjarni was in Norway, his 
father Herjulf broke up their home in Iceland and pre- 
pared to leave for Greenland with Eric the Red. Aboard 
Herjulf's ship there was a Christian man from the Hebri- 
des, and he made a poem on the trip that was known as 
" The Song of the Breakers." One verse ran as follows: 

I pray our Christ will bless this voyage, 
The faultless One, who tests His servants; 
He rules the vaulted halls of heaven; 
May He extend His hand o'er us! 

8 Voyages to Vinland 

Herjulf settled at Herjulfsness and was held in the great- 
est respect. 

That summer Bjarni sailed to Eyrar in Iceland only to 
find that his father had left in the spring. This news 
affected Bjarni a good deal, and he would not even trouble 
to unload his ship. His men asked him what he had in 
mind, and he answered that he planned to spend the win- 
ter with his father as he had always done " and if you 
will go with me, I shall steer straight for Greenland/' 
They all agreed to do as he thought best. 

Then Bjarni said, " People will call us fools for start- 
ing off on this voyage we who have never been in the 
Greenland seas! " 

In spite of this, they put to sea as soon as they could get 
ready and sailed for three days. There was then no land in 
sight, the fair wind died down, and they were beset by fogs 
and north winds until they lost all track of their course. 
This went on for many days, and then the sun came out 
again, so they could get their bearings. They hoisted sail 
and sailed all day before they sighted land. They won- 
dered what country this might be, but it was Bjarni's opin- 
ion that it could not be Greenland. They asked him, was 
he going to land, but he said, " It is my advice that we only 
skirt the shore." As they did so, they found that the land 
was not mountainous but covered with small wooded 

They left the land behind on their port side, with the 
sheet pointed towards the shore. They sailed for two days 
and found another country. They asked Bjarni if he 
thought that this would be Greenland, but he replied that 
this was no more Greenland than the other one, " for in 
Greenland there are said to be huge glaciers." As they 
approached the shore, they saw that it was a level country 
and well wooded. The wind died down and the crew in- 


The Saga of V inland 11 

sisted that they ought to land, but Bjarni refused. The 
men claimed that they were short of wood and water. 
" You have no lack of either/' said Bjarni, but at this the 
men grumbled a good deal. He told them to hoist sail, and 
then they steered the ship away from shore. 

For three days they sailed with a southwesterly breeze 
before they caught sight of a third coast. This country had 
many high mountains topped with glaciers. Again they 
asked Bjarni if he was going to land, and again he said no, 
" for this country looks pretty worthless to me." This time 
they did not even furl their sail but steered along the coast 
and found that it was an island. Again they left the country 
astern and sailed away in the same direction. A storm blew 
up and Bjarni told his crew to reef the sail and not to press 
on any faster than their ship and her tackle could bear. 

They sailed for four days and then they found a fourth 
country. Again they asked Bjarni if he thought this was 
Greenland, and Bjarni answered, " This is most like what 
I have been told about Greenland, and here we shall try to 
land/' So that evening they made their way to a jutting 
headland. On the cape they found a boat, and it was the 
very cape on which Herjulf, Bjarni 's father, had settled and 
to which he had given his name, so that it has since been 
known as Herjulfsness. Bjarni now went to his father's 
house and from this time on he sailed no more. He lived 
with his father as long as Herjulf was alive, and after that 
he succeeded him and went on living there. But people 
found fault with him for showing so little curiosity and 
bringing back so little information about the countries he 
had visited. 

Chapter III 



Eric the Red lived at Brattahlid, where he was held in the 
highest respect and deferred to by all. Eric's children were 
Leif, Thorvald, Thorstein, and a daughter named Frey- 
dis. She was married to one Thorvard and lived with him 
at Gardar, which is now the Bishop's seat. She was a proud 
and grasping woman, but Thorvard was a weakling. Thor- 
stein lived at home with his father, and there was no more 
promising youth in all Greenland. In those days the peo- 
ple of Greenland were still pagan. 

A T\ One summer Eric's son Leif sailed for Norway to visit 
the court of King Olaf Trygvason. On his way from Green- 

^ ' ' land he was blown out of his course and landed on the 
Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. The winds kept 
blowing contrary for a long time, and he had to stay there 
most of the summer. Here Leif grew fond of a woman 
named Thorgunna. She was of good family, and, as Leif 
discovered, not without some knowledge of secret lore. 
When Leif was making ready to sail, Thorgunna begged 
to be taken along. Leif asked if this would be agreeable 
to her family, but she said that made no difference. Leif, 
however, refused to carry off a woman of her high rank in 

The Saga of V inland 1 3 

a strange country where, as he said, " we are so few in 

" Some day," said Thorgunna, " you may regret that 
you chose this course/' 

" I shall have to risk that," retorted Leif. 

" Then I will tell you/' said Thorgunna, " that I am no 
longer alone; I am with child, and I say that it is your 
doing. I also know that I shall bear a boy when the time 
comes. And even though you pay no attention to me now, 
I shall bring him up and send him to you in Greenland, as 
soon as he can travel with other men. But I predict that he 
will give you no more joy than you deserve from this part- 
ing with me. More than that, I intend to see Greenland 
myself before the end comes/' 

When he left, Leif gave her a gold ring, a homespun 
Greenland mantle, and a belt of walrus-tusk. Later on, the 
boy did come to Greenland, and he was named Thorgils. 
Leif accepted him as his son, and after that the boy stayed 
in Greenland, but to the very end there was something un- 
canny about him. 

Leif now sailed away from the Hebrides and got to Nor- 
way by fall. He sought the court of King Olaf Trygvason, 
and entered his service. The king showed Leif great favor, 
for it seemed to him that Leif was a fine, well-bred man. 

One time he called Leif in and asked him, " Are you 
planning to sail out to Greenland this summer? " 

" I am," answered Leif, "if it is not against your 

" Indeed," said the king, " I am anxious that you should. 
You shall go with a special mission from me: to proclaim 
Christianity in Greenland/' Leif said he would do as the 
king wished, but added that it might not be an easy mission 
to accomplish in Greenland. The king insisted, however, 
that he knew no man better fitted for it than Leif. 

14 Voyages to Vinland 

" And I am confident/' he added, " that fortune will 
smile on you." 

" That will only be/' said Leif, " if your good luck is 
added to mine/' 

A D Leif sailed as soon as he could get ready, and was blown 
IOOO around a great deal He hit upon countries he had not ex- 
pected to see. There he found self-sown wheat fields and 
grapevines, and a tree called " mosur " [possibly bird's- 
eye maple], and he brought with him samples of all these. 
Some of the timber was big enough to use in building 
houses. Leif found some shipwrecked men and took them 
home with him and gave them all lodgings for the winter. 
He showed so noble and generous a nature in bringing 
Christianity to Greenland and in rescuing these men 
that after this he was called Leif the Lucky. 

Leif landed in Ericsfjord and made his way home to 
Brattahlid, where he was well received. He set out at once 
to preach Christianity and the Catholic faith. He showed 
men the tokens of King Olaf 's mission and told them how 
much glory and magnificence followed this faith. Eric was 
very reluctant about giving up his old beliefs. But his wife 
Thjodhild quickly went over to Christianity and had a 
church built some distance from their home. The church 
was named Thjodhild's church after her. There she used 
to say her prayers, along with all the rest who accepted the 
faith, and they were many. Thjodhild refused to have in- 
tercourse with Eric after she was converted, and this he 
took greatly to heart. 

Eric grumbled that the one of Leif s deeds offset the 
other: he had rescued a ship's crew and saved their lives; 
but he had also brought this " faker" to Greenland 
that was his name for the priest. Yet Leif 's urging and per- 
suasion brought about the baptism of Eric an4 all the 
people of Greenland. 


Chapter IV 



People in Greenland were now eagerly talking about ex- 
ploring the lands that had been seen. Leif Ericson made 
a visit to Bjarni Herjulfson and bought a ship from him. 
Then he gathered a crew of thirty-five men and asked his 
father Eric to lead the expedition. But Eric held back. 
" I am getting along in years/ 1 he said, " and I am less 
able, to put up with such hardships than I used to be." 

But Leif insisted that he was still the ablest and the 
luckiest of his clan, and gradually he talked Eric into con- 
senting. When they were ready, Eric rode from home, and 
got almost down to the ship. Then the horse he was riding 
stumbled, so he fell off and hurt his foot. Eric then said, 
" It seems that I am not fated to find other lands than the 
one in which we are now living. We shall ride no farther 
together." Eric returned to Brattahlid, while Leif went 
down to the ship with his thirty-five companions. One of 
them was a German by the name of Tyrker. 

They fitted out the ship and sailed away. The first coun- 
try they found was the one that Bjarni had seen last Here 
they sailed to shore and* dropped anchor, put out a boat 
and went on land. They saw no grass, the mountain tops 

18 Voyages to V inland 

were covered with glaciers, and from sea to mountain the 
country was like one slab of rock. It looked to be a barren, 
unprofitable country. Then Leif remarked, " Now at 
least we have done better than Bjarni, who never even 
set foot on these shores! I am going to give the country a 
name, and I shall call it Helluland [the land of flat rocks]/' 

They went on board and sailed out to sea once more. 
They found a second country, and again they dropped 
anchor, put out a boat, and went ashore. This country 
was level and wooded, with broad white beaches wher- 
ever they went, and a gently sloping shoreline. Leif said, 
" I shall give this country a name that fits with its natural 
character and call it Markland [forest land]." Then they 
hurried back to their ships and sailed on with a north- 
east breeze. 

After two days' sail they sighted another shore and 
landed on an island to the north of the mainland. It was a 
fine, bright day, and as they looked around, they discov- 
ered dew on the grass. It so happened that they picked up 
some of the dew in their hands and tasted of it, and it 
seemed to them that they had never tasted anything so^ 
sweet. Then they returned to the ship and sailed through 
the channel between the island and a cape jutting out to 
the north of the mainland. 

They steered a westerly course past the cape and found 
great shallows at ebb tide, so that their ship was beached 
and lay some distance from the sea. But they were so 
eager to go ashore that they could not bear to wait till the 
tide rose under their ship. They ran up on the shore to a 
place where a stream flowed out of a lake. As soon as the 
sea rose under their ship, they took a boat and rowed out 
to it, and moved it up the river into the lake, where they 
cast anchor. Then they took their leather hammocks 
ashore and built themselves shelters. Later they decided 



The Saga of V inland 21 

to stay there through the winter and set up large houses. 

There was no lack of salmon either in the river or in 
the lake, and it was bigger salmon than they had ever seen. 
Nature was so generous here that it seemed to them no 
cattle would need any winter fodder, but could graze out- 
doors. There was no frost in winter, and the grass hardly 
withered. The days and nights were more nearly equal 
than in Greenland or Iceland, and on the shortest day of 
the year the sun was up from breakfast time to midafter- 
noon [as it was not in Iceland after the middle of October]. 

When they had finished building their houses, Leif said 
to his companions, " Now I am going to divide our com- 
pany into two groups, for I want to get this country ex- 
plored. Half the men will stay here at the camp, while the 
other half goes exploring. They shall not go so far that they 
cannot get back home by evening, and they shall stay to- 
gether/' So for a time they did this, and sometimes Leif 
went along with the exploring party and sometimes he 
stayed at home. Leif was a big, strapping fellow, hand- 
some to look at, thoughtful and temperate in all things. 

One evening the news spread that a member of the 
crew was missing, none other than Tyrker the German. 
Leif was much disturbed at this, for Tyrker had lived in 
their household a long time and had been greatly 
devoted to Leif when he was a child. Leif angrily re- 
proached his men, and made ready to start off with a 
search party of twelve. They had scarcely left the house 
when Tyrker came walking towards them, and he was re- 
ceived with great joy. Leif saw at once that his foster 
father was in high spirits. Tyrker was a short fellow, 
rather puny looking, with a prominent forehead and rest- 
less eyes in a smallish face; but he was handy at all sorts 
of craftsmanship. 

Leif said to him, " Why were you so late, foster father, 

22 Voyages to Vinland 

and how did you get parted from your company? " Tyrker 
first talked a long time in German, rolled his eyes and 
made faces. They did not understand a word he said. 
After a while he changed over and spoke Norse. 

" I did not go very far beyond the rest of you, and yet 
I have some real news for you. I found grape vines and 
grapes! " 

" Is this really true, foster father mine? " said Leif. 

" Certainly it is true/' he answered, " for I was born 
where there is no lack either of vines or grapes/' 

Now they slept that night, but the next morning Leif 
told his crew, " From now on we have two jobs on our 
hands. On one day we shall gather grapes, and on the next 
we shall cut grape vines and chop down the trees to make 
a cargo for my ship/' 

So they followed this plan, and it is said that they loaded 
up the afterboat with grapes, and the ship itself with a 
cargo of timber. When spring came, they made the ship 
ready and sailed away. Leif gave this country a name to 
suit its resources: he called it Vinland [wine land]. 

After this they sailed out to sea with favorable winds, 
until they hove in sight of Greenland and its ice-capped 
mountains. Then one of the crew spoke up and asked Leif, 
" Why do you steer the ship so much into the wind? " 

" I am watching the course/' answered Leif, " but I can 
also see something else. Do you notice anything out oj^ the 
ordinary? " They answered that they saw nothing worth 
talking about. 

" I wonder," said Leif, " if the thing I see is a ship or a 

Then they saw it, and said that it must be a reef. But 
Leif s eyes were so much keener than theirs that he could 
see men on the reef. 

" Now/' said Leif, " we shall steer into the wind, so that 


The Saga of Vinland 25 

we can help these men if they need it. If they should 
happen to be unfriendly, we have the upper hand and 
not they/' 

They sailed in by the reef, lowered their sail, cast an- 
chor, and launched a little boat they had with them. 
Tyrker asked the men, " Who is your chief? " One of them 
spoke up, " My name is Thori, and I am of Norse stock. 
But what is your name? " 

Leif told him. 

" Are you the son of Eric the Red of Brattahlid? " 
said he. 

" I am/' said Leif, " and now I wish to invite you all on 
board my ship, and you may take as much of your goods 
as the ship will hold/' 

They accepted his offer and sailed with their cargo to 
Ericsfjord. They landed at Brattahlid, and here they un- 
loaded the ship. Leif asked Thori and his wife Gudrid 
and three of the men to make their home with him, and 
he found lodgings elsewhere for the rest of the crew, 
both Thori's men and his own. Leif rescued fifteen per- 
sons from the reef. 

So Leif grew in wealth and honor. But that winter there 
was much sickness among Thori's men, and Thori him- 
self died, together with a large part of his crew. 

Chapter V 



People kept talking a great deal about Leif s voyage to 
Vinland, and his brother Thorvald maintained that the 
country was still too scantily explored. Leif spoke to him 
and said, " If you are burning to see Vinland, brother, 
you are welcome to my ship. But first I should like to 
send the ship to fetch the timber that Thori had on the 
reef." This was done. 

A ) Then Thorvald got ready for the voyage with a crew of 
1004- ^frty men consulting all the time with his brother Leif. 
They fixed up the ship and sailed away, and nothing is 
reported to have happened before they got to Vinland. 
At Leif s camp they laid up their ship and spent the win- 
ter, getting their food by fishing. 

^ j) In the spring Thorvald told his men to get the ship 
TOO C rca( ty. He sent some of them out with the afterboat and 
asked them to spend the summer exploring the coast to 
the west. They found that it was a lovely, wooded country, 
and that the woods ran almost down to the sea, with a 
white, sandy beach. The sea was full of islands and great 
shallows. Nowhere did they find any vestiges of men or 
animals, except a wooden granary on one of the islands to 


The Saga of Vinland 29 

the west. They found no other human product, and in the 
fall they turned back to Leif s camp. 

In the second summer Thorvald sailed his vessel east- A T\ 
ward and along the coast to the north. As they were round- T no A 
ing a certain cape, a stiff storm fell upon them and drove 
them on shore, so that their keel was broken and they had 
to stay there a long time while they repaired the ship. 
Then Thorvald said to his men, " I wish we might raise 
up the keel on this cape and call the cape Keelness," and 
so they did. 

Then they sailed along the coast to the east, into some 
nearby fjord mouths, and headed for a jutting cape that 
rose high out of the sea and was all covered with woods. 
Here they anchored the ship and laid down a gangplank 
to the shore. Thorvald went ashore with all his company. 
Then he said, " This is beautiful, and here I should like 
to build me a home." 

After a time they went back to the ship. Then they 
caught sight of three little mounds on the sand farther in 
on the cape. When they got closer to them, they saw three 
skin-covered boats, with three men under each. They split 
up their force and seized all the men but one, who escaped 
in his boat. They killed all eight of them, and then re- 
turned to the cape. Here they saw a number of mounds 
in the fjord and guessed that these must be human dwell- 
ing places. 

After that such a drowsiness fell upon them that they 
simply could not stay awake, and they all fell asleep. Then 
a voice cried out to them, so that they all awoke, and this 
is what the voice said, " Wake up, Thorvald, and all your 
crew, if you value your lives! Get aboard the ship with 
your men and hurry away from this country with all 
speed! " A host of boats was then heading towards them 
from the inner end of the fjord. Thorvald then said, " We 

jo Voyages to Vinland 

shall set up our breastworks on both sides of the ship and 
defend ourselves as best we can, but do as little killing as 
possible/' So they did, and after the savages had shot at 
them for a while, they hurried away as fast as they could. 

Thorvald asked if any of his men were wounded. They 
said they were not. 

" I have got a wound under my arm/' he said; " an 
arrow flew between the gunwale and my shield and struck 
me under the arm, and here is the arrow. This will be the 
last of me. Now I advise you to make ready for your re- 
turn as quickly as possible. But me you shall take back to 
that cape which I found so inviting. It looks as if I spoke 
the truth without knowing it when I said that I might live 
there some day! Bury me there with a cross at my head 
and another at my feet, and ever after you shall call it 

So Thorvald died and they did everything just as he had 

told them. Then they came back to their companions and 

exchanged news about all that had happened. They spent 

the winter there and gathered grapes and vines for the 

ship. The next spring they sailed back to Greenland and 

A D steered the ship into Ericsfjord and had plenty of news 

1007 totellLeif. 


Chapter VI 



Thorbjorn was the name of an Icelandic chief, who had 
a great estate and was held in the highest honor. He had 
a daughter named Gudrid, who was the loveliest of women 
and noble in every trait. 

A man named Orm, who lived at Arnarstapi and was 
married to Halldis, was a great friend of Thorbjorn's. He 
was an excellent farmer, and for a long time Gudrid was 
brought up in his household. 

There was a rich man named Thorgeir, who once had 
been a slave, and now lived at Thorgeir's Fell. He had a 
son Einar, who was a handsome, manly fellow, and quite 
fond of showy clothes. Einar used to sail on trading ex- 
peditions and prospered in this business; he spent his win- 
ters alternately in Iceland and Norway. One fall Einar 
was selling off a cargo of his on Snowfellsness in Iceland 
and came to Orm's home at Arnarstapi. Orm invited him 
to stay there, and Einar accepted, for they were good 
friends. Einar 's wares were carried into one of the store- 
houses, and there Einar unpacked them and showed them 
to Orm and his household. 

He offered Orm anything he wanted, and Orm ac- 

34 Voyages to Vinland 

cepted, saying that Einar was a fine merchant and a man 
of good fortune. 

Just as they were busy with the wares, a woman walked 
past the storehouse door. Einar asked Orm who the beau- 
tiful woman was that had walked past the door "I have 
never seen her here before/* 

" That/' replied Orm, " is Gudrid, my foster child; she 
is a daughter of Thorbjorn, the chief of Laugarbrekka/* 

" She would be a fine match for me/' said Einar. " Or 
has she already been spoken for? " 

" Plenty of men have asked for her, my friend/' an- 
swered Orm, " but she is not to be had for the asking. It 
looks as if both she and her father were pretty particular/* 

" Be that as it may/' said Einar, " she is the woman I 
intend to ask for, and I wish that you would plead -my 
cause with her father. If you will go to this trouble for 
my sake, I shall reward you with my devoted friendship. 
Thorbjorn will surely see the advantage in tying up with 
us; for he has a high standing and a fine estate, but they 
tell me that his other assets are slipping away. Now my 
father and I have plenty of land and goods, and it would 
be a great help to Thorbjorn if he would accept this plan/ 1 

" I certainly consider myself a friend of yours/' replied 
Orm, " but I do not look forward to broaching this idea to 
Thorbjorn he is a proud man and a hot-tempered one, 

But Einar insisted that he make the proposal, and at 
length Orm agreed to do as he wished. Then Einar went 
back south to his home. 

Some time after this, Thorbjorn held a great harvest 
festival, as was his custom, for he was a princely sort of 
man. Orm of Arnarstapi was asked there, along with many 
other friends of Thorbjorn's. Orm got to talking with 
Thorbjorn and told him that he had lately been visited 


The Saga of Vinland 37 

by Einar of Thorgeir's Fell and that Einar was a promis- 
ing young man. He then made the proposal on Einar's 
behalf and said that there were many reasons why he 
should accept the offer. " It would help you out of your 

Thorbjorn answered, " I had not expected to hear such 
words from you, that I should marry my daughter to the 
son of a slave. Now that you think my wealth is waning, 
you can give me such advice as this. But she shall no 
longer stay with you, who have found her worthy of so 
mean a marriage/' 

Orm and the other guests went back to their homes. 
But that winter Gudrid stayed at home with her father. 
In the spring Thorbjorn again gave a grand feast for his 
friends; many people came, and it was a great party. One 
day at the feast Thorbjorn asked them to listen, and then 
he spoke these words: " I have lived here a whole lifetime; 
I have many proofs of the love and good will of men 
towards me, and it seems to me that our dealings have 
been good. But now things are taking a turn for the worse, 
because my fortune is running low, though people have 
never scorned me before. Now I will rather break up my 
home than blemish my honor; I will rather leave the 
country than disgrace my family. So I have decided to 
accept the proposal that my friend Eric the Red made 
when we parted in Broadf jord. I plan to leave for Green- 
land this summer, if things go as I wish." 

This speech caused a great sensation, for Thorbjorn 
had many friends; but they realized that he had only an- 
nounced the plan when his mind was fully made up, and 
that there was no use in trying to change it. Thorbjorn 
gave gifts to his guests, and soon the party broke up, with 
the men returning to their homes. 

Thorbjorn sold his land and bought a ship that was 

58 Voyages to Vinland 

lying at the mouth of Hraunhofn [Lava Harbor]. Thirty 
A D men made ready to sail with him, and among them Orm 
099 of Arnarstapi and his wife, as well as others of Thorbjorn's 
friends who did not wish to part from him. So they put 
out to sea, and at first the weather favored them. But on 
the high seas the good winds died down, a fearful storm 
broke upon them, and they were tossed around all sum- 
mer. Besides, many of them fell sick, and half the com- 
pany died, including Orm and his wife Halldis. The seas 
were rough, and the men had to bear all sorts of misery 
and distress. In spite of this they managed to make 
Herjulfsness in Greenland by the opening of winter 
[October 14]. A man named Thorkel was living on Her- 
julfsness at this time, a fine, enterprising farmer. He re- 
ceived Thorbjorn and all his men and entertained them 
royally throughout the winter. Thorbjorn and his men 
enjoyed themselves here and were well satisfied. 

Chapter VII 



It so happened that this was a bad year in Greenland, for 
the men who had gone fishing had made a poor haul and 
some had not even returned. There was a woman in the 
settlement named Thorbjorg, who was a fortune teller 
and was called the Little Witch. She had had nine sisters, 
all of them wise women, and she alone was alive. It was 
her custom to visit around among the farmers, and people 
invited her to their homes, especially those who were 
eager to know what the future had in store for them or 
what the season would be like. Since Thorkel was the lead- 
ing man in this community, people felt that it was his 
duty to find out when their troubles were going to let up. 
Thorkel invited the witch woman to his home and pre- 
pared a fine welcome for her, as was the custom when 
such women were received. A special seat of honor was 
made ready for her, and a cushion laid in it, filled with 
chicken feathers. 

A man was sent to fetch her. When he brought her back 
that evening, she was dressed in a dark-blue mantle, 
clasped together with a strap, and set with precious stones 
all the way down to the hem. She wore a necklace of glass 
beads, and on her head a black lambskin hood, lined with 
white catskin. She carried a staff with a knob on top, orna- 

A Voyages to Vinland 

merited with brass and set with stones on top of the knob. 
Around her waist she wore a belt made of tinderwood, 
with a large leather bag hanging from it. In this bag she 
kept the charms that she needed for her witchcraft. On 
her feet she wore shaggy calfskin shoes, and the laces 
were long, heavy leather thongs with big brass buttons on 
the ends. On her hands she wore catskin gloves, which 
were white and furry on the inside. 

When she came in, everyone felt that it was proper to 
greet her as courteously as possible, and she responded to 
each as she found them agreeable to her. Thorkel, as head 
of the house, took the witch woman by the hand and led 
her to the seat that had been prepared for her. Then he 
asked her to cast her eyes over home and herd and house- 
hold; but she was very silent about it all. 

In the evening tables were set up, and something must 
be said about the meal that was prepared for the witch 
woman. A porridge of goat's milk was made for her, and 
she was served meat from the hearts of every kind of ani- 
mal they had there. She used a brass spoon and a knife 
with a handle of walrus tusk that was fastened on by a 
double ring of copper; the point of it was broken. When 
the tables were taken away, Thorkel went before Thor- 
bjorg and asked her how she liked the household and the 
behavior of the people, and how soon she would be able 
to tell him what he had asked about and everyone wanted 
to know. She said that she could give no answer before 
morning, after she had slept there that night. 

The next day they began to make the necessary prepa- 
rations for carrying on her witchcraft. She asked to have 
with her some women who knew the old magic song called 
Warlocks, which was needed for the ritual. But there 
seemed to be no such women. They hunted around the 
farm, to see if any one knew it, and then Gudrid spoke 


The Saga of Vinland 43 

up, " I am no witch woman, nor am I skilled in any kind 
of witchcraft, but Halldis my foster mother in Iceland 
taught me the lore that she called Warlocks/' 

Thorkel answered, " You are lucky to have learned it! " 

" But this/' said Gudrid, " is secret lore of a kind that 
I will have no part in, for I am a Christian woman." 

" By giving us your help/' said Thorbjorg, " you might 
very well do the people hereabouts a great service and 
yet be none the worse for it. But I trust that Thorkel will 
be able to persuade you/' 

Thorkel urged Gudrid to consent, and she finally 
agreed to do as he wished. The women then formed a 
circle around Thorbjorg, who sat on the magic platform. 
Gudrid recited the charm so well and so beautifully that 
none of them could remember having heard it done with 
finer expression. The witch woman thanked her for the 
song and said that many spirits had been attracted to the 
place and had been charmed by her recital, spirits who be- 
fore had turned away and refused to show submission. 
" Now," she said, " many things are clear as daylight, 
which before were hidden both to me and others. For one 
thing, I know now that this bad season will only last the 
winter, and that things will get better in the spring. The 
pest that has been harassing you will vanish sooner than 
you expect. And as for you, Gudrid, I am going to reward 
you at once for the help you have given us, for your 
future lies clear before me. You will make a distinguished 
match here in Greenland, though the marriage will not 
be a long-lasting one, for your paths lead back to Iceland, 
and there you will become the mother of a great and 
good line and over your family tree will shine a brighter 
ray of light than I have the power to tell you. But now I 
bid you farewell and good luck, my daughter/' 

After this, people crowded around the witch woman 

44 Voyages to Vinland 

and each one asked about the things he most wanted to 
know. She was ready and willing to answer them, and not 
much of what she told them failed to come true. The 
people on another farm had already sent for her, and so 
she went there. Then they sent for Thorbjorn to return, 
for he had refused to stay home while such heathendom 
was being practised. 

As soon as spring came, the weather got better, as Thor- 

bjorg had said it would. Thorbjorn got his ship ready and 

sailed to Brattahlid. Eric received him with open arms 

and said it was well that he had come. Thorbjorn and his 

household lived with Eric that winter, while his crew 

A D lodged with the neighbors. The next spring Eric gave him 

I OOO land at Stockness, where Thorbjorn built himself a goodly 

farm and lived forever after. 

Chapter VIII 



Next it is to be told that Thorstein Ericson asked for the A D 
hand of Gudrid, Thorbjorn's daughter. He was a good 
man, wise and friendly, and his proposal was well re- 
ceived, both by Gudrid and her father Thorbjorn. It was 
decided that they should be married, and the wedding was 
arranged at Brattahlid in the fall. It was a great festival 
and there were many guests. Gudrid was a fine-looking, 
intelligent woman, with a gracious manner toward 

Thorstein was eager to explore the lands that his brother 
Leif had found; according to the Greenland Saga, he also 
wanted to bring back the body of his brother Thorvald. 
He rigged up the ship that Thorvald had sailed in and A D 
picked out a crew that was notable for strength and stat- Tnn Q 
ure. With twenty-five men and Gudrid his wife he set 
sail as soon as they were ready. But they were tossed around 
all summer and never found the course they were looking 
for. They got within sight of Iceland, and they saw birds 
from the Irish coast. In the fall they got back to Green- 
land, weary and battered, reaching Ericsfjord just a week 
before the beginning of winter. 

46 Voyages to Vinland 

Then Eric spoke these words, " You were more cheer 
ul this summer, when you sailed out of the fjord, than 
you are now; and yet things might be much worse! " 
Thorstein replied, " You will show your true princely 
spirit now, if you look after the homeless members of my 
crew and see that they are well taken care of." So all those 
who had no place to go went home to Eric's farm. 

Thorstein owned a half share in a farm in Lysuf jord, 
the southernmost fjord of the Western Settlement. The 
other half was owned by a man who also was named Thor- 
stein, and often called " the Black "; his wife's name was 
Sigrid. Thorstein and Gudrid made a visit to these peo- 
ple in Lysufjord. They were given a good welcome and 
stayed there that winter. 

Early in the winter a disease began to ravage Thorstein 
Ericson's crew, and many of his men died. Thorstein 
asked that coffins be made for those who died, and the 
bodies brought aboard his ship. " For I intend," he said, 
" to have all the dead removed to Ericsf jord next summer." 

But it was not long before the plague struck Thorstein's 
own household. First Sigrid, mistress of the house, fell 
sick; she was a very big woman and as powerful as a man, 
but the plague struck her down just the same. Shortly 
after that the disease seized Thorstein Ericson, so that 
they both lay sick at the same time. When Sigrid died, 
Thorstein got up and went out of the house to find a 
plank to lay the body on. Gudrid then said, " Don't stay 
away long, Thorstein mine/' He said he would not. Then 
Thorstein exclaimed, " Our hostess is carrying on most 
strangely, for she is trying to get up on her elbow and is 
sticking her foot over the edge of the bed and fumbling 
for her shoes." 

Just then the other Thorstein came in, and Sigrid lay 
down with a crash so that every beam in the house shook. 

The Saga of V inland 47 

Now Thorstein made a coffin for Sigrid's body, took it 
away, and buried it. He was a big man and a strong one, 
but it took all the strength he had to get her off the farm. 

Now Thorstein Ericson's illness got worse, and he died, 
to the great distress of his wife Gudrid. They were all 
sitting together in the room, with Gudrid on a chair be- 
fore the bench where her husband was lying. Then the 
other Thorstein lifted Gudrid off the chair on to his lap 
and sat down with her on a bench opposite her dead hus- 
band. He spoke gently with her and tried to comfort her; 
he promised her that he would take her to Ericsfjord with 
her husband's body and those of his companions. " Also," 
he said, " I shall bring more servants here to wait on you 
and amuse you/' She thanked him for this. 

Thorstein Ericson sat up and cried, " Where is Gud- 
rid? " He said it three times, but she did not answer. Then 
she asked the other Thorstein, " Shall I answer him or 
not? " He told her to say nothing. Then he walked across 
the floor to the chair and sat down on it, again taking 
Gudrid on his lap. Then he said to the dead man, " What 
do you want, namesake? " 

After a pause Thorstein Ericson replied, " I feel an 
urge to tell Gudrid her coming fate, so that she will not 
take my death too hard, for I have come to a good resting 
place." He then went on to foretell those events which are 
recounted in the rest of this saga. He was seen to drop a 
tear and whisper some words in Gudrid's ear that only 
she could hear. Then he said aloud that those men were 
blessed who kept their Christian faith, for with it went 
grace and comfort; but there were many who kept it 

" It is a shameful custom," said he, " which people 
have followed here in Greenland since they took over 
Christianity that they bury men in unconsecrated 

48 Voyages to Vinland 

ground with just a little singing over them. I want to be 
removed to the church along with those o my crew who 
have died/' It had become the custom in Greenland to 
bury men on the farms where they died. They were put 
down in unconsecrated soil, with a pole thrust down as far 
as the breast of the corpse. When the clergy arrived, the 
pole was pulled up, and holy water poured down the 
opening. Then a service was sung over the dead, though 
It might be a long time after their burial. 

Thorstein told Gudrid she could look forward to a 
bright future. He advised her not to marry a Greenlander. 
He asked her to give their property to the church or to 
the poor, and then he fell back a second time. 

A T\ Thorstein the Black carried out all that he had prom- 
ised Gudrid. He sold his land and his cattle in the spring 

IOO 9 and sailed with her and all his goods to Ericsfjord. The 
dead were buried in the churchyard. Gudrid went to live 
in Leif's household at Brattahlid, while Thorstein the 
Black got himself a farm in Ericsfjord and lived there the 
rest of his life, honored and respected by all. 


Chapter IX 



There was a man named Thorfinn Karlsevni [the promis- 
ing], a son of Thord Horsehead, who lived in the north of 
Iceland at Reyniness in Skagafjord. Karlsevni was a man 
of good stock and very well-to-do. His mother's name was 
Thorunn. He used to sail on trading voyages and was con- 
sidered a successful merchant. 

One summer he made his ship ready with the idea of AD 
sailing to Greenland. Snorri, a son of Thorbrand from 
Alptafjord, joined him, and together they had a crew of 
forty men. That same summer two other men, Bjarni 
Grimolfson from Broadfjord and Thorhall Gamlason 
from Eastfjord, also fitted out a ship to sail to Greenland 
with forty men on board. 

Bom ships sailed out to sea as soon as they were ready. 
We are not told how long they were at sea, but in the 
fall they both arrived in Ericsfjord. Eric and other settlers 
rode down to the ships to meet them, and at once began 
bartering for the goods they had brought. The skippers 
told Eric to help himself to all he wanted of the wares. 
Eric showed his generosity in turn by inviting all the men 

52 Voyages to Vinland 

to Brattahlid for the winter. The traders thanked Eric 
for the offer and went home with him. Later their wares 
were carried to Brattahlid, where there was no lack of fine, 
roomy outhouses to store them in. 

The traders had a merry time of it at Eric's place that 
winter. But as it drew toward Christmas, Eric became 
silent and moody, very different from his usual cheerful 
self. One day Karlsevni got to talking with him and said, 
*' Are you troubled about something, Eric? It strikes us 
that you are rather less cheerful than you have been. You 
are treating us so royally here that we owe you whatever 
returns we can give. Now tell me what makes you so 

Eric replied, " You are fine, courteous guests, and noth- 
ing is farther from my thoughts than any unpleasantness 
between us. It is simply that I should feel deeply shamed 
if it came to be said that you had never had so bad a 
Christmas as the one you spent at Eric the Red's in Green- 

" There is no need of that/' answered Karlsevni. " On 
our ships we have malt and flour and grain, and you are 
welcome to take as much as you wish, and hold whatever 
kind of celebration your generosity may dictate/' 

Eric accepted the offer and made ready for the Christ- 
mas feast, and it turned out so magnificently that people 
could hardly recall a better one in a poor country. 

After Christmas Karlsevni asked Eric for Gudrid's 
hand, since it appeared that Eric had the legal right to 
marry her off. Eric answered that he would be glad to 
advance his cause, and he added that she deserved to be 
well married. " She will have to follow the fate that is cut 
out for her, and we have heard nothing but good about 
you/ 1 Tlje question was then put up to her, and she said 

The Saga of V inland 53 

that her wishes agreed wholly with Eric's. They wasted no 
time carrying out the plan, and extended the Christmas 
feast into a wedding party. It was a jolly winter in Bratta- 
hlid that year, with much chess-playing, saga-telling, and 
everything that might contribute to their good cheer. 

Chapter X 



There was great discussion at Brattahlid that winter about 

going in search of Vinland the Good, for it was agreed 

that the country must have valuable resources. For this 

reason Karlsevni and Snorri decided to go exploring in 

A D the spring. Bjarni and Thorhall, who were mentioned 

1 010 above, made ready to join them with their ship and the 

crew they had brought from Iceland. 

There was a man named Thorvard, who was married 
to Freydis, an illegitimate daughter of Eric's. He also de- 
cided to go along. With him came Thorhall, who was 
nicknamed " The Hunter." He and Eric used to go hunt- 
ing and fishing together in the summer, while in the 
winter he was Eric's overseer and trusted man. He was 
huge of stature, dark and glowering, rather beyond mid- 
dle age; he was a hard man to get along with, mostly taci- 
turn, but also abusive and underhanded, and he was a 
bad adviser to Eric. He had refused to adopt the new faith 
when it came to Greenland. He had few friends, but Eric 
had a high regard for him, and he was taken on the voyage 
because he was acquainted far and wide with the unsettled 
regions of the country. They sailed the ship that Thor- 


The Saga of V inland 57 

bjorn, GudricTs father, had brought out from Iceland, 
and most of the men aboard were Greenlanders. 

Altogether there were a hundred and sixty men aboard 
the three ships. They sailed first to the Western Settle- 
ment and then out to Bear Isles. From there they sailed for 
two days with a northerly wind before they sighted land. 
They rowed to shore in their boats and explored the coun- 
try; here they found huge slabs of stone, many of them 
twenty-four feet across [the Greenland Saga says that two 
men could easily lie outstretched on them with their soles 
touching]. They saw many arctic foxes there. They named 
the country Helluland [the land of flat rocks]. Then they 
sailed for two days more, with their course turning from 
south to southeast, and reached a land with great forests 
and many animals. Off the shore to the southeast lay an 
island, and here they killed a bear. For this reason they 
called it Bear Island, while they named the country itself 
Markland [forest land] because of the woods. 

Then they sailed a long time along the coast and came 
upon a cape. They tacked along the coast, which was on 
their starboard. It was ar^ unfriendly shoreline, with long, 
sandy beaches. They put out their boats and rowed ashore. 
On the cape they found the keel of a ship, and so they 
called it Keelness. The sandy beaches they called Wonder- 
strands, because it took so long to sail past them. Then the 
coast grew more indented with bays, and they steered the 
ship into one of these. 

When Leif Ericson had been at the court of Olaf Tryg- 
vason, and King Olaf had asked him to proclaim Chris- 
tianity in Greenland, he had given Leif two Scottish 
[Gaelic] people, a man named Haki and a woman named 
Hekja. The king suggested that if he needed speed, he 
might use them, for they were swifter than deer. Leif and 
Eric had turned them over to Karlsevni for the voyage. 

eg Voyages to V inland 

When they had sailed past Wonderstrands, they landed the 
Scots and told them to run southwards and see what the 
country had to offer, but to return before three days were 
past. They were dressed in garments which they called 
" kjafal " [Irish cabhail]. These were made with a hood 
on top, were open on the sides, sleeveless, and fastened 
between the legs with a button and a loop. Otherwise the 
Scots were naked. 

They cast anchor and lay there in the meanwhile. When 
three days had passed, the Scots came running down to the 
shore. One of them bore a bunch of grapes in his hand, 
the other an ear of wild wheat. Karlsevni declared that 
they seemed to have found a country rich in resources, and 
took them back on board. Then they all sailed away on 
their course, until they reached a place where the shore- 
line was broken by a fjord, and into this fjord they headed 
their ships. At the mouth lay an island, washed by swift 
ocean currents; this they called Stream Isle. There were 
so many eider-ducks there that it was hardly possible to 
step between the eggs. They steered into the fjord and 
called it Streamfjord. 

Here they unloaded their cargoes and set up a camp. 
They had brought along all kinds of livestock, and now 
they turned them out to graze in the tall grass. There were 
mountains there, and the country was beautiful to see. The 
men spent all their time exploring. They stayed through- 
out the winter, which turned out to be a severe one. They 
had not provided for it during the summer, and so they 
ran short of food, and had trouble finding any game or 

They went out to the island in the hope that something 
would turn up either wild life or flotsam from the sea. 
But there was little that one could eat, even though their 
cattle were getting along fine. Then they prayed to God, 


The Saga of Vinland 61 

and asked that He send them some food, but their prayers 
were not answered as quickly as they had need of. Mean- 
while Thorhall the Hunter disappeared and the men made 
a search for him, keeping it up for three days. On the 
fourth day Karlsevni and Bjarni found him on top of an 
overhanging cliff. He was staring up in the air, with his 
eyes and mouth and nostrils wide open, while he scratched 
and pinched himself, and mumbled something. They 
asked why he had gone there. He told them it was none 
of their business, that they had better not bother about 
his actions, and that he had lived long enough so he needed 
no advice from them. 

They told him to come home with them, and he did so. 
Soon afterwards a whale drifted in, and the men rushed at 
it and cut it up, but they did not know what kind of whale 
this was. Even Karlsevni, who was an expert on whales, 
could not make out what kind it was. When the cooks had 
boiled the whalemeat, they ate some of it; but all of them 
got sick from it. Then Thorhall walked over and said to 
them, " Isn't it so that the Redbearded One turned out 
to be stronger than your Christ? This is my reward for 
the poetry I made about my trusty friend Thor; he has 
rarely failed me/' When the men learned this, none of 
them would touch the meat, and they threw it over a cliff 
into the sea. They uplifted their voices and asked for the 
mercy of God. Then the weather got better, so they could 
row out to sea, and now they were able to find plenty of 
food. In the spring they went back to Streamfjord and 
gathered supplies along the shore. There was game on the 
mainland, birds' nests on the island, and fish in the sea. 

Now they began to discuss the future course of their 
journey. Thorhall the Hunter wanted to sail north of 
Wonderstrands past Keelness and look for Vinland in this 
direction, while Karlsevni wanted to sail southward along 

62 Voyages to Vinland 

the coast and to the east of it, for there seemed to be better 
land the farther south they got, and it seemed to him more 
advisable to explore in both directions. Thorhall rigged 
up his ship off the island, but only nine men went with 
him. All the rest joined Karlsevni. One day, as Thorhall 
was carrying water on board his ship, he took a drink and 
recited this verse: 

Warrior friends so brave 
promised me so much; 
best of drinks I'd get 
in this repulsive land. 
Yet here you see me now, 
creeping to the spring, 
swinging a water pail; 
no wine has touched my lips. 

After this they sailed away, and Karlsevni followed 
them out to the island. Before they hoisted sail, Thorhall 
recited another ditty: 

Let's be off for home, 
steer across the waves, 
cleave the ocean paths, 
back to our countrymen. 
Let the restless stay, 
all who praise this land; 
let them sit and cook 
their whales on Wonderstrand. 

Then they parted company, and Thorhall and his crew 
sailed to the north past Wonderstrands and Keelness. 
There they tried to tack to the west, but a storm struck 
them and blew them east as far as Ireland. Here they were 
beaten up and thrown into slavery, and Thorhall lost his 
life, according to stories told by traders. 

Karlsevni sailed south along the coast with Snorri, 


The Saga of V r inland 65 

Bjarni, and the rest. After a long while they came to a 
stream that first ran down into a lake, and then into the 
sea. There were great sandbars outside the river mouth, 
and they could only enter the stream at high tide. Karls- 
evni then sailed into the river mouth and named the 
country Hop, because that was the Norse word for a small, 
landlocked bay. Here they found self-sown wheat fields in 
the lowlands, and grapevines wherever there were hills. 
Every creek was full of fish. They dug pits at the point 
where land and sea met at high tide, and when the tide 
went out, there were halibut in the pits. The woods teemed 
with all kinds of animals. For half a month they stayed 
there and enjoyed themselves, without being aware of any 
dangers. They had their livestock with them. 

Chapter XI 




Early one morning, as they were looking around, they 
caught sight of a great many skin-covered boats. The men 
in the boats were waving wooden sticks at the ships, and 
they were waving them in a sunwise direction. It sounded 
very much as if they were threshing grain. Then Karlsevni 
exclaimed, " What can this mean? " 

Snorri Thorbrandson answered, " It may be that this is 
a signal of peace, so let us take a white shield and lift it up 
before them." 

So they did, while the others rowed up to them, gazed 
at them with astonishment, and then went on land. They 
were dark men and ugly, with unkempt hair on their 
heads. They had large eyes and broad cheeks. After they 
had stayed a while and marvelled, they rowed off to the 
south of the cape. 

Karlsevni and his men had built their shelters above 
the lake, some of them close to the water, others farther 
away, and here they stayed that winter. There was no 
snow-fall whatever, and all their cattle grazed by them- 
selves in the open. 

But early one morning, as spring drew near, they saw 



The Saga of V inland ji 

before their eyes a vast number of skin boats rowing 
around the cape from the south. The bay was dotted with A D 
them, as if it had been strewn with pieces of charcoal, 1012 
and on every one the sticks were waving. Karlsevni's men 
raised their shields, and when the two parties met, they 
started trading with each other. 

These people wanted most of all to buy red cloth. They 
also wanted to buy swords and spears, but that was for- 
bidden by Karlsevni and Snorri. In exchange for the cloth 
they offered untanned furs and grey pelts, and for each fur 
they got a span's length [about nine inches] of the cloth, 
which they tied around their heads. This went on for a 
while, until the Norsemen began to run short of cloth. 
Then they cut it into smaller strips, until each was no 
more than a finger's width, and yet the Skraelings [as the 
Norsemen called the savages] gave just as much for it or 
even more. 

In the Greenland Saga it is told that the Norsemen sold 
the savages milk. Karlsevni asked the women to carry out 
vessels of milk and other dairy products. At once the sav- 
ages wanted to buy this and nothing else. So the trading 
turned out in this way, that the savages carried their pur- 
chases away in their stomachs, while Karlsevni and his men 
had possession of their furs. 

Then it happened that a bull belonging to Karlsevni 
and his people ran out of the woods and bellowed furi- 
ously. The savages were so terrified that they ran to their 
boats, and rowed along the shore to the south. For three 
weeks there was no trace of them. But at the end of this 
time, a vast fleet of Skraeling boats hove into sight, rush- 
ing from the south like an angry torrent. This time the 
savages were waving their sticks in a counter-sunwise 
direction, and were yelling at the tops of their voices. This 
time Karlsevni and his men took their red shields and held 

j 2 Voyages to Vinland 

them aloft. The savages leaped from their boats; the two 
parties met and started fighting. It was a furious battle, for 
the savages had warslings to help them. Karlsevni and 
Snorri watched them lift up a pole with a huge knob on 
the end, black in color, and about the size of a sheep's 
belly, which flew up on land over the heads of the men, 
and made a frightening noise when it fell. At this a great 
fear seized Karlsevni and his followers, so that they thought 
only of flight, and retreated up the stream. It seemed to 
them that they were being attacked by savages on every 
side, and this did not let up before they got back to some 
cliffs, where they fought a hard battle. 

Freydis came out and saw them retreating. She shouted 
to them, " Why are you running away from these puny fel- 
lows, fine men as you are! It looks to me as if you should 
be able to cut them down like cattle* If I had weapons, I 
think I could fight better than any of you! " 

They paid no attention to what she was saying. She tried 
to follow, but had trouble keeping up with them, for she 
was with child. She went after them into the woods, and 
the savages started towards her. In front of her lay a dead 
man, Thorbrand, Snorri's son, whose head had been 
crushed by a flat rock. Beside him lay his sword, and she 
picked it up to defend herself. When the savages ap- 
proached, she pulled out her breasts from under her dress 
and slapped them with the naked sword. At this the sav- 
ages were so appalled that they ran down to their boats 
and rowed away. 

Karlsevni and his men now came up to her and praised 
her good fortune. Two men had fallen of his party, and a 
great many of the savages, although the latter were far 
superior in number. They now returned to their camp, 
dressed their wounds, and talked over who the host might 
be that had attacked them on land. It had seemed to them 


The Saga of V inland 75 

as if there were two attacking parties, but now they saw 
that one of these must have been a delusion. 

The savages found one of the dead with an axe beside 
him. One of them picked up the axe and hewed at a tree 
with it; one after the other tried it, and it seemed to them 
a great treasure because it cut so well. Then one of them 
took and struck a rock with it, so that the axe broke. They 
decided then that it was useless, since it could not with- 
stand stone, and tossed it away. 

Karlsevni and his men were now convinced that even 
though the country was richly endowed by nature, they 
would always live in dread and turmoil because of the en- 
mity of those who lived there before. So they made ready 
to break up and return to their own country. 

They sailed along the coast to the north. On the shore 
they found five savages asleep, dressed in leather jackets, 
and beside them vessels containing animal marrow mixed 
with blood. Karlsevni judged that these men must have 
been sent out as spies from this country, and killed them. 

Later they found a cape that abounded in animals, and 
it looked as if the cape were solidly crusted with dung from 
all the animals that lay there at night. Then they reached 
Streamfjord, and there they found plenty of all they 
needed. Some say that Bjarni and Gudrid had stayed here 
with a hundred men and gone no farther, while Karlsevni 
and Snorri sailed to the south with forty men, stayed at 
Hop just two months, and returned the same summer. 

Karlsevni set out with one ship to search for Thorhall 
the Hunter, while the others stayed in Streamfjord. They 
sailed north of Keelness, and then headed west, with the 
land on their port side. They found nothing but a forest 
wilderness, with hardly a clearing among the trees. When 
they had sailed a long time, they found a river running 
from east to west into the sea. Here they steered for the 

j6 Voyages to Vinland 

river mouth and landed on the southern bank. [According 
to the Karlsevni Saga, Thorvald Ericson was killed here 
and not on that voyage of his own which has been re- 
counted earlier.] After this they sailed away to the north 

They concluded that the mountains they found in this 
country were the same as those they had seen at Hop, and 
this belief was confirmed by the fact that the distance from 
Streamfjord to both these places was the same. They re- 
turned to Streamfjord and lived there the third winter. 
A D But this winter there was much quarreling among the 

101 ^ men > anc ^ women were the ca u$e of it, for those who had 
no women began attacking those who did. A son named 
Snorri was born to Karlsevni the first autumn, and he was 
three winters old when they left. 

As they sailed away from Vinland, they got a favoring 
south wind, and made their way to Markland. Here they 
found five savages, a bearded fellow, two women and 
two children. Karlsevni and his men captured the boys, 
but the rest got away arid sank into the ground. They took 
the boys along, taught them to speak, and baptized them. 
The boys said that their mother was named Vethilldi and 
their father Uvege. They said that kings ruled the land 
of the Skraelings, and one of them was named Avalldama, 
the other Avilldudida. They said there were no houses 
there, and that people slept under rocks or in caves. They 
said there was a country on the opposite side from their 
own, where people went about in white clothes, uttered 
loud cries, and carried poles with banners fastened to 
them. It is generally believed that this must have been 
White Men's Land or Greater Ireland, So they returned 
to Greenland and stayed with Eric the Red that winter. 


Chapter XII 



Bjarni Grimolfson's ship was driven out to sea, to a place 
west of Ireland where the water was full of shipworms. 
Before they knew it, the ship was worm-eaten under them, 
and began to sink, so they had to hold counsel on what 
they should do. They had a jollyboat that was coated with 
sealtar and people say that the shipworm cannot attack 
wood that has been treated in this way. They started to 
enter the boat, but found that only half of the crew could 
get in. 

Then Bjarni said, " There is room for no more than 
half of our men in the boat, and therefore I propose that 
we cast lots to decide who shall go. For this should not be 
decided according to rank/ 1 They all felt that this was so 
manful an offer that no one opposed it. When the lots 
were cast, Bjarni was in that half of the crew which was to 
go in the boat. But as the lucky ones were leaving the ship, 
a young Icelander who had been Bj ami's shipmate said 
to him, " Do you intend to desert me here, Bjarni? " 

Bjarni answered, " It is so decided." 

" This is not," said he, " what you promised my father, 
when we left Iceland together. Then you said that we two 
should share the same fate/' 

8o Voyages to Vinland 

" I see no other way out/' answered Bjarni, " or what 
would you propose? " 

" I propose/' said the other, " that we trade places, so 
that you come here and I go there/' 

" So be it," said Bjarni. " You come into the boat, and I 
shall go up on the ship, since you are so anxious to live and 
so fearful of death." 

So they traded places, and Bjarni went on board the 
ship. Those who were in the boat sailed away until they 
reached Dublin in Ireland, and there they told this story. 
But it is generally believed that Bjarni and his com- 
panions perished in the wormy sea, for none of them was 
ever seen again. 


Chapter XIII 



Once more people fell to talking of the journey to Vin- 
land, for this seemed an open road to wealth and honor. 
The same summer that Karlsevni returned from Vinland, A D 
a ship arrived in Greenland from Norway. The skippers 1013 
were two brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, who were of Ice- 
landic stock from the East Fjords. They spent the winter 
in Greenland. 

Now it happened that Freydis, Eric's daughter, made a 
special trip from her home in Gardar to meet the brothers 
Helgi and Finnbogi. She proposed that they should sail to AD 
Vinland in their vessel, and share with her all the profits 1014 
they might gain together. They agreed to this. Then she 
called on her brother Leif and asked if he would give her 
the houses he had built in Vinland. He answered that he 
would lend them to her, but would not give them away. 
Freydis and the brothers agreed that each of them should 
have thirty able-bodied men on board, besides women. 
But Freydis broke this agreement at once by taking along 
five extra men, whom she hid so the brothers knew noth- 
ing of it before they got to Vinland. 

Now the two ships put out to sea, having agreed to stay 
together, if possible. There was no great distance between 
them, but the brothers arrived shortly before Freydis, and 

84 Voyages to Vinland 

carried their baggage up to Leif s houses. When Freydis 
landed, her crew unloaded their ship and also began carry- 
ing their things up to the houses. Then Freydis exclaimed, 
" Why did you put your stuff in here? " 

" Because we thought/' said the brothers, " that you 
would live up to all our agreements." 

" Leif lent these houses to me," said she, " not to you! " 

Then Helgi remarked, " We brothers are no match for 
your wickedness! " They carried their belongings away 
and built a house of their own. They set it up farther from 
the sea, on the bank of the lake, and put it in fine order. 
Meanwhile Freydis was having timber cut down to fill her 

Now winter set in, and the brothers proposed that they 
should while away the time by playing games and enter- 
taining each other. They did so for a while, but soon the 
men got to quarreling, the games were given up, and there 
were no more visits between the houses. This went on far 
into the winter. 

Early one morning Freydis got out of bed and dressed, 
but did not put on her shoes. The weather was such that a 
heavy dew had fallen. She put on her husband's cloak, and 
then she went to the door of the house where the two 
brothers lived. Shortly before this a man had gone out and 
had left the door slightly ajar. She pushed it open, stood on 
the threshold a while, and said nothing. Finnbogi, who 
lay farthest from the door, was awake. He said, " What do 
you want here, Freydis? " 

' She answered, " I want you to get up and come out with 
me, so I can talk to you." 

He did so, and they walked over to a log that lay near 
the house wall, and sat down on it. 

" How do you like it here? " said she. 

" It is a fine country," he answered, " with great re- 


The Saga of Vinland 87 

sources, but I am troubled by the squabble that has grown 
up between us, for I can see no reason for it." 

" There you spoke a true word/ 5 said she, " and I agree 
with you. But my errand is that I should like to trade ships 
with you brothers, for you have a larger ship than I, and I 
am anxious to get away from here." 

" I shall agree to that," said he, " if it is your pleasure." 

With these words they parted. She went home and Finn- 
bogi back to his bed. 

She got into bed with her cold feet, and awakened Thor- 
vard with them, so that he asked why she was so cold and 
wet. She answered with great fury, " I went to see the 
brothers and asked them to sell me their ship, because I 
want a larger ship, but at that they lost their tempers, and 
they struck me and treated me roughly. But you are such a 
measly man that you would never avenge either my dis- 
grace or your own. I am certainly finding out how far I am 
from Greenland. But if you do not avenge this, I am going 
to separate from you." 

She kept it up until he no longer could bear her re- 
proaches, and told his men to get up at once and seize their 
weapons. They did so, went to the brothers' house, and 
entered it while they were still asleep; they seized the men, 
tied them up, and led them out one by one. Freydis had 
each one killed as he came out, until all the men were 
dead; but no one would kill the women. Then cried Frey- 
dis, " Hand me an axe! " When she got it, she killed the 
five women herself, and left them dead. 

After this monstrous deed, they returned to their house, 
and it was clear that Freydis thought she had managed 
very cleverly. She told her crew, " If we are lucky enough 
to reach Greenland again, I shall have any man killed who 
speaks of these doings. Our story will be that these people 
stayed on here after we left." 

88 Voyages to Virdand 

Early in the spring they rigged up the ship that the 
A D brothers had owned and filled it with all the products they 
I O I C could find, as much as the ship would carry. They had a 
good sailing and got back to Ericsfjord early in the sum- 
mer. There lay Karlsevni's ship all ready to sail, just wait- 
ing for a fair wind. It is generally agreed that no ship has 
ever sailed from Greenland more richly laden than the 
one he commanded. 

Freydis took up life again on her own farm, which had 
not been molested while she was gone. She gave her crew 
valuable gifts, for she wanted to hush up her crimes. But 
not all of the men were tightlipped enough to keep from 
talking about the misdeeds that had been committed. 
After a time the story leaked out and got to Leif, her 
brother, who was deeply distressed over it. He took three 
members of Freydis' crew and tortured them until they 
revealed all that had happened, and their stories tallied 

" I do not have the heart/' said Leif, " to punish my 
sister Freydis as she deserves, but I foresee that her de- 
scendants will enjoy little prosperity." It turned out as he 
said, for from that time on, no one thought anything but ill 
of them. 


Chapter XIV 



In the meanwhile Karlsevni made his ship ready and 
sailed out to sea. He had a good voyage and got to Norway 
safely, and there he stayed all winter while he sold his 
cargo. Both he and his wife were shown the most courteous 
attention by the great men of Norway. The following A D 
spring he made ready to sail for Iceland, and when he was i o 1 6 
all prepared and his ship was waiting at the dock for a 
favorable wind, there came to him a German from Bre- 
men in Saxony. He offered to buy Karlsevni's husasnotra 
[probably the ornamented ship's prow], 

" It is not for sale," said he. 

" I will give you half a mark in gold," said the German. 
Karlsevni thought this was a fine offer and sold it to him. 
The German went away with the husasnotm, but Karls- 
evni was unable to say what kind of wood there was in it. 
It was mosur from Vinland. 

Now Karlsevni sailed away and touched land in the 
north of Iceland at Skagaf jord, and there his ship was laid 
up for the winter. In the spring he bought a farm at 
Glaumbo and built himself a home. Here he lived the rest 

92 Voyages to Viriland 

of his days and was greatly esteemed; many men of high 
regard have descended from him and his wife Gudrid. His 
mother thought he had made a poor match when he mar- 
ried Gudrid and would not live at home the first winter. 
But when she discovered what an exceptional woman 
Gudrid was, she returned, and the two women became 
the best of friends. 

When Karlsevni died, Gudrid took over the manage- 
ment of the farm, together with her son Snorri, who had 
been born in Vinland. When Snorri was married, she 
went abroad and made a pilgrimage to Rome, and when 
she returned to her son Snorri's farm, he had built a church 
at Glaumbd. After that Gudrid took the veil, and lived 
there as a nun the rest of her life. 

Snorri had a son named Thorgeir, the father of Yngvid, 
mother of Bishop Brand. A daughter of Snorri's was named 
Hallfrid, and she became the mother of Bishop Thorlak. 
Another son of Karlsevni and Gudrid was Bjorn, who be- 
came the father of Thorunn, the mother of Bishop Bjorn. 
Many men are descended from Karlsevni, for he was 
blessed with a great and honorable stock. He has told more 
fully than any one else the story of all these voyages, of 
which something has now been repeated. Here ends this 






The first story of America came to Europe in a curiously 
roundabout way. It was embalmed in a great work of 
church history by a German schoolmaster who clearly 
never dreamt of its epochmaking possibilities. It had mi- 
grated to him by word of mouth from the very outposts 
of the known world, and by that time it sounded suspi- 
ciously like a fable of Cockayne. But he conscientiously 
put it down, for he had it from trustworthy men, and who 
was he to doubt their word, however strange it might 

His name was Adam, and he was head of the cathedral 
school at Bremen. He appears to have visited the court of 
Denmark not long after William of Normandy had crossed 
the Channel to make himself master of England. Adam 
eagerly gathered all the information he could about the 
history and geography of Scandinavia. His master, the 
archbishop of Hamburg, had designs on the newly con- 
verted souls of Scandinavia, and for the first time in world 
history the peoples of the North were exciting the friendly 
interest of medieval chroniclers. Adam wrote faithfully 
what he was told, and put it all in his History of the Arch- 
bishopric of Hamburg. 

Adam reported a good many surprising facts about " the 

n8 Voyages to Vinland 

islands of the North*' and their inhabitants. He had 
learned about the marvels of the midnight sun, the cold, 
dark winters, and the strange peoples of Iceland, Green- 
land, and northern Norway. But strangest of all was the 
story they told him of another " island/' somewhere in 
this northern sea, of a very different nature from the rest. 
The King of Denmark himself told Adam that " there 
was an island in that ocean visited by many, which is 
called Winland, for the reason that vines grow wild there, 
which yield the best of wine. Moreover, unsown grain 
grows there in profusion, and this we know is not a fabu- 
lous fancy, for the accounts of the Danes prove that it is 
a fact/' 

Written sometime around 1070, this is the first authen- 
tic reference in world literature to the American continent, 

The king of Denmark who told Adam this story was 
named Svein Estridson, and he was a nephew of Canute 
the Great, erstwhile ruler of England, Denmark, and 
Norway. But Svein was very unlike his uncle. He was not 
a warrior, but a traveller and an observer, who found his 
chief interest in a wise administration of his country. 
Pope Gregory VII once addressed him as a man " well 
versed in letters and zealous for the advancement of the 
church/* Adam was effusive in his praise of Svein: " He 
retained in his memory all the deeds of the barbarians, 
exactly as if they had been written/' " All that we have 
said or are going to say about the barbarians we have 
learned from the accounts of this man." It is understand- 
able why Adam included in his work even the statement 
about the mysterious island somewhere in the Arctic with 
vines and wild grain, though he clearly entertained doubts 
about the truth of it. 

But King Svein was right. He was one of those monarchs 

The Evidence of History 99 

of early Scandinavia who made a point of listening to the 
tales of travelling poets and saga tellers. That such men 
came to his court from Iceland and even far-away Green- 
land is attested by quite a different source. There is a 
touching tale in the Icelandic sagas of one Audun, who 
went to Greenland and spent all he owned on a polar bear 
which he brought as a gift to King Svein in Denmark. For 
all we know it may have been this very man who told Svein 
the story of Vinland. But there were many others, too, of 
these travelling Icelanders, who made their way at the 
courts of continental Scandinavia by their very special 
skill of narrative and fidelity of memory. They carried 
from country to country a treasure of that prose and po- 
etry which was the heritage of the Scandinavians. They 
were the historians of their race, and they carried to the 
European continent the first intimations that there was 
unknown and unsuspected land to the west* 

For we know now that two generations earlier men 
from Iceland had been on the American coast. They 
were not men who could write, but they were quick to 
tell others what they had seen. They took their stories 
back to Iceland, and from there the stories spread to Nor- 
way and Denmark. If we did not know this, it would be 
hard to guess what Adam of Bremen meant by his brief 
notice. As late as 1700, a learned Swedish scholar who did 
not know the historical records of Iceland thought that 
Adam's Winland was a mistake for Finland! 

But when we learn that the intrepid sailor-explorers of 
Iceland and Greenland applied the name " Vinland " to 
a part of the American coast, and that the chief features 
of this coast were its grapes and its wild wheat, then the 
picture is suddenly illuminated, and we perceive the real 
significance of Adam of Bremen's .statement: his brief 

ioo Voyages to V inland 

account is the only contemporary testimony to the Norse 
discovery! But it is all we need, for Adam was a conscien- 
tious historian, not given to flights of fancy. 

These few sentences in medieval Latin from the elev- 
enth century clinch the central fact of our story: that the 
Norsemen were the first authenticated discoverers of 


When the chiefs of Iceland voted in the year 1000 to adopt 
Christianity as the law of their land, they were making 
history in more ways than they could have suspected. They 
were smashing the precedent established in most west 
European countries that the gospel of peace on earth could 
be spread only by blood and iron. More important was 
the fact that they were ushering in a new era in the history 
of their country. They were joining Iceland to the great 
cultural unity of Europe, so that it was no longer a land 
regarded as the last retreat of " barbarians " beyond the 
pale of human civilization. They were also voting into 
being a new class of men in Iceland the hierarchy of 
the church. The first native Iceland bishop was ordained 
in 1056. Before long four monastery schools had been 
established. The church brought with it an art that was 
new to Iceland and that was going to be of tremendous 
significance to Icelandic culture: the art of writing on 

It was not that the Scandinavians had never known how 
to write. They had a strange alphabet of their own, called 
the " runic/' which they had learned from their Ger- 

1O2 Voyages to V inland 

manic kinsmen to the south. But this was little used for 
the writing of texts and messages. It was inscribed chiefly 
on ornamental objects and monuments, with a magic and 
religious significance. The stories and poetry of the vik- 
ings were not written; they were told from generation to 
generation, learned and recited and learned again. 

When the art of writing came to Iceland, it opened vast 
new possibilities for the preservation of these traditions 
without the inevitable loss that took place in oral trans- 
mission. But there was one drawback; these traditions were 
pagan, while the men who possessed the art were Chris- 
tians. Everywhere else in northern Europe this conflict led 
to the loss of the pagan traditions. The church thundered 
against the black paganism of the people, and rooted it 
out wherever possible. In Iceland it was different. By a 
miracle of good luck, the sons of Icelandic chieftains who 
took the oath of priesthood refused to extinguish the lights 
of the past while taking over those of the new. 

One of the first who used a Christian art to preserve 
pagan lore was Ari, son of Thorgils, who was born in 1 067, 
about the time that Adam of Bremen was visiting the 
friendly and learned king of Denmark. He was an orphan, 
fostered by a proud old chief then approaching his eighti- 
eth year. This venerable man was a lover of old tales and 
traditions, and his memory reached back to the end of the 
pagan age. The stimulus that he gave his foster son made 
Ari a collector of traditions, and the first great historian 
of his native land. 

When he was about fifty years old, his superiors, the 
two bishops of Iceland, asked him to write a survey of the 
history of that country. Ari consented, and some time 
between the years 1 122 and 1 133 he produced the first his* 
tory of Iceland, and one of the first histories of any Euro- 
pean country not written in Latin, but in the native tongue 

The Evidence of History 103 

of the land. Its chief distinction, however, is that it lacks 
entirely the medieval itch for the fabulous and the pictur- 
esque. Ari was a sober-minded, factual fellow, who named 
the sources of his information, and was much concerned 
about dates and other dry facts. In the annals of his coun- 
try this book won him the honorable epithet of " Ari the 

In one chapter of his work he digressed to tell the story 
of how Greenland was settled. After all, Greenland was 
still a diocese under Iceland, and her souls were vital to 
the Iceland bishops. Ari knew the name of the first Norse 
settler in Greenland, and he tells us where he got his in- 
formation. An uncle of his had been in Greenland, and 
there he had talked to a man who had sailed out with Eric 
the Red way back in 986, a hundred and forty years before. 
But this man had told Ari's uncle more than that. He told 
him that when the first settlers got to Greenland, " they 
found human habitations, fragments of skin boats and 
stone implements from which it was evident that the same 
kind of people had lived there as inhabited Vinland and 
whom the Greenlanders called ' Skraelings/ " 

Written around 1 1 30, this is the second authentic ref- 
erence in world literature to America. 

Ari knew a great deal more about Vinland than he tells 
us here. He did not happen to be writing about that sub- 
ject. He just alluded in passing to a place that everyone 
knew; there was no-need of explaining where it lay or how 
it had been discovered. After all, the Icelandic annals of 
1121 state that in that year one of the bishops of Green- 
land sailed out to look for Vinland. 

Ari did not remain the only historian of Iceland. In the 
century that followed, historical writing blossomed lux- 
uriantly in that little country. Pagan traditions crossed 
with clerical learning to produce one of the world's great 

104 Voyages to V r inland 

cultures. Around 1200 a grand compilation was made of 
oral traditions current about Icelandic families and en- 
titled " The Book of Settlement/' In this attempt to give 
the name of every important Icelandic settler and his gene- 
alogy, Vinland is twice mentioned, quite as a matter of 
course. In other written traditions of this period the story 
of Vinland is repeatedly alluded to. And in 1 347 the Ice- 
landic annals tell about a ship that had drifted in to the 
Iceland coast. It had started from Greenland, sailed to 
Markland (the Norse name for another part of the Ameri- 
can coast) , and had then been driven off its course. This 
is the last historical allusion to America in old Icelandic 

Together, these allusions clearly show that from the 
twelfth to the fourteenth century the learned men of Ice- 
land knew that there were lands to the west of Europe 
which had been visited by their countrymen. They had 
names for these lands, and stories were current about their 
inhabitants and their natural characteristics. But the allu- 
sions of the learned historians were mere footnotes to their 
fascinating tale of Icelandic life. They would tell us little 
about America if we did not also have the narratives of the 
sagas to fill in the missing details. These narratives make 
up the body of this volume, and to give them a proper 
setting, we shall make an excursion into viking life and 
viking traditions. 


From the ninth century to the eleventh the North Atlantic 
was a Scandinavian sea. Men from the Norwegian fjords 
plied busily back and forth from Norway to the British 
Isles, the Shetlands, the Faroes, the Hebrides, Iceland, 
Greenland, and the American continent. 

They were called " vikings " because they originally 
made their homes in the sheltering bays (called " vik ") 
of the North. Their small, swift-sailing vessels took the 
pacified peoples of western Europe by surprise, for the vi- 
kings did not hesitate to use force. They greedily took 
what they wanted jewels, women, cattle, weapons, 
money all the beckoning glitter of a culture more re- 
fined than their own. Their unconsecrated hands did not 
even spare the bulging wealth of the Church, already 
grown fat through the protective indulgence of royal 
power. " Deliver us, O Lord," cried the terrified monks, 
" from the fury of the Northmen! " 

This grim, but picturesque view of the viking is deeply 
enshrined in our American imagination, and is accurate 
as far as it goes. But piracy and marauding were only one 
aspect of viking life the professional careers of a very 
small number of chieftains. As coastal guards were 
strengthened, and royal authority rose within the North, 

106 Voyages to Vinland 

viking piracy became an even rarer method of gaining 
wealth. The transfer of goods from hand to hand took a 
more peaceable course, as barter and commerce. New ave- 
nues to wealth and fame were opened to those who could 
take advantage of them. An illuminating story is told 
about one Bjorn, son of Brynjolf, who lived in Sogn, a 
famous Norwegian fjord. He wanted to get away from 
home to forget an unhappy love affair, and asked his father 
to fit him out with a warship and a crew so he could go 
a-viking. But his father refused. Instead he gave him a 
trading ship with a cargo of goods to Dublin, and said, 
" That is now the most honorable voyage/' Ancestral own- 
ership of land was no longer the sole title to power, and 
merchant careers like those of Einar of Thorgeir's Fell 
and Thorfinn Karlsevni in our saga were made possible. 
Unoccupied lands in the west also beckoned to those 
who were uncomfortable amid the growing centralization 
of authority. The viking movement became a great expan- 
sion of peoples, which brought Scandinavian populations 
to Normandy in France, northern England, Scotland, Ire- 
land, and the islands to the North. The Shetlands were the 
first stepping stone, occupied in the eighth century; after 
that came the Faroes and Orkneys, England and Ireland 
(by 800) , Iceland (about 870) , Greenland (in 985 or 
986) , and America (around 1000) . 

While the viking vessels thus brought Scandinavians 
to the rest of Europe, they also brought Europe to Scan- 
dinavia. They became the bond that tied Scandinavia to 
western Europe. For these frail bottoms carried back to 
the North new products of a southern culture, new ideas 
and beliefs, new demands on life. For better or for worse, 
the isolation of Scandinavia was at an end. In the year 1000 
the chiefs of Iceland voted to adopt Christianity. Thirty 
years later Olaf, the patron saint of Norway, was mar- 

The Evidence of History 107 

tyred in the struggle to convert his countrymen. The re- 
sistance of Germanic paganism was at length broken in its 
last strongholds, and the Church could enroll new con- 
verts in the majestic folds of its supernational organization. 
A period of restless and exciting activity came to an end. 
The viking expansion had reached a natural border; trade 
and travel had turned the vikings into Christian men, 
however thin the veneer that covered their turbulent tem- 

But fortunately they did not completely forget their 
past. In Iceland, a remote corner of the Scandinavian area, 
they even clung to it with such tenacity that it survived 
the coming of a new faith and the passage of generations. 
Iceland was settled by emigrants from Norway, many of 
whom had first spent some time in the Norse settlements 
of the British Isles. These settlers were no poor, land- 
hungry emigrants; they were closely knit groups of friends 
and families, headed by proud chieftains who were unwill- 
ing to bow to changing circumstances in the homeland. In 
Iceland they set up the same aristocratic oligarchy that 
they knew from Norway, and a legal system in close imi- 
tation of the Norwegian. Only one feature did they ex- 
pressly reject; the kingship, whose authority might menace 
their own. Instead they established one of the world's first 
parliaments an annual meeting of all free citizens, di- 
rected by the chiefs and empowered to make laws and pass 
judgments, but not to execute them. 

Iceland thus became a miniature Scandinavia, chang- 
ing but little in the course of centuries. The fierce pride of 
the ruling families, the comparative isolation of Iceland 
from the strife of the Continent, and the stability of the 
social order led to an extraordinary interest in tradition. 
On long winter evenings the Icelandic household listened 
with fascination to tales of the great exploits of ancient 

io8 Voyages to Vinland 

days, especially those exciting centuries before society set- 
tled down into the dull pattern of clerical ritualism. When 
these events had originally occurred, none of the rough 
and ready men who acted in them had been scholars. But 
certain ones among them developed a special skill of mem- 
ory and narration, which established them in the com- 
munity as entertainers and as oracles of ancient wisdom. 
As one generation of saga tellers died, new ones took up 
the tradition and passed it on. 

Such narration in far-away Iceland has been the means 
of rescuing most of what we know today about the pagan 
religion of our Germanic ancestors in England, Germany, 
and Scandinavia, about Scandinavian history between 800 
and 1200, and all that may truly be called Scandinavian 
literature before 1300. 

Most of this great body of verse and prose was written 
down between 1 100 and 1300 by men with clerical train- 
ing. It had then been current in oral narration anywhere 
from one to three hundred years. Its contents range from 
fantastic adventure to the soberest reality, all comprised 
under the term " saga " which means only " that which 
is said " and was applied to all prose narrative. 

But the Icelanders had a sharp sense of the difference 
between sagas: they knew whether they were dealing with 
truth or fiction. They had some sagas they called " lying 
sagas " or " stepmother sagas/' and one Norwegian king 
admitted that he found these the most entertaining. But 
those sagas that really touched their own or their ances- 
tors' lives were of a different nature. They were told in the 
full conviction that they had really happened, and were 
the more real the closer their scene of action lay to Iceland, 
the center of the Icelander's universe. The most vivid and 
credible were the Icelandic Family Sagas, which pictured 
the clan feuds of Iceland between 870 and 1000. Next 

The Evidence of History ion 

to these came the sagas of the Norwegian kings between 
870 and 1500, with inserted adventures of Icelanders 
throughout the Norwegian colonies of the North Atlantic. 
As soon as the narrative moved out of this period or this 
area, its events grew fabulous and improbable. 

Students have asked again and again: how could the 
Icelanders possibly have preserved through three centu- 
ries any accurate information about the deeds of their 
ancestors without the help of writing? There have been 
voices like those of the skeptical Lord Raglan, who airily 
declared of the sagas that " their principal incidents are 
mythological." Some devout admirers of the saga have 
gone to the opposite extreme of holding each word to be 
that of inspiration. They have taken it for granted that the 
stories as we have them were composed shortly after 
the events, and that by some prodigious feat of memory 
the Icelanders learned them by heart generation after 
generation until a man of letters came to fasten them to 

Amid the clamor of believers and skeptics the scholars 
have spent many conscientious hours trying to unravel 
fact from fiction in the sagas. They have combed archives 
for contemporary sources and they have excavated mate- 
rial objects of the viking age. They have checked the sagas 
with each other, working out their chronology, and see- 
ing how it dovetails with dates from other sources. A com- 
parison has been made with similar traditions in modern 
Norway, where documents are available to check the nar- 

Out of this labor has come confirmation that historical 
facts can be preserved in folk tradition over a surpris- 
ingly long period. But people must have some reason 
for so preserving them, and special conditions of social 
life must be present to keep the tradition from swerving 

Voyages to Vinland 

too far from fact. Such conditions did exist among the Ice- 
landers, by virtue of their family pride, their isolation 
from the rest of the world, and the smallness of their com- 
munities. Family pride was no academic matter; one's 
family tree was a patent of nobility, a source of strength 
in the community. Isolation prevented the mass of new, 
fresh material from overwhelming the old to the same 
extent as it does in modern life. The narrowness of the 
group led to close contact between people; the truth could 
not be concealed, for every one knew about every one else; 
private secrets were not easy to keep. 

The sagas as we know them are certainly a species of 
literature, and they owe their artistic qualities largely to 
the age that wrote them down. The pattern as a whole is 
that of Christian Iceland of the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries. But the bits out of which these mosaics were 
woven are traditional facts from the pagan communities of 
an earlier day. The roots of the sagas go back to the sort 
of tales that pass in every community about the doings of 
its citizens. A dash of gossipy narrative, a bit of journal- 
istic exaggeration, the earthy humor of a local commenta- 
tor, perhaps some family backbiting these were the ele- 
ments out of which a chain of skillful story-tellers welded 
their sagas. Where information failed, imagination might 
come to the rescue and supply repartee, secret decisions, 
hidden motives, childhood escapades, and dramatic de- 
nouements. The value of such talk for historical purposes 
depends entirely on the information and the accuracy of 
the original story-tellers. The historical sagas are therefore 
not strictly factual and analytic history in the modern 
sense. They are tales of historic events, undeniably colored 
by the interests of generations of story-tellers and listen- 
ers, and the more accurate the closer they are to the origi- 
nal events in time and place. 

The Evidence of History 1 1 1 

The story of Vinland was not one of the central tales of 
Icelandic tradition. It was not among the earliest to be 
written down, and its events took place in a distant land, 
far out on the rim of the Norse world. It was not easy for 
its facts to remain unconfused. But it did involve the an- 
cestors of a distinguished Icelandic family, who had an 
interest in keeping it alive. More than this, it contained 
the history of how Iceland's only colony, Greenland, was 
settled, a tale of great interest as long as relations were 
continually maintained. 

It is by the interplay of all these factors of human effort 
and human error that the sagas have become what they are 
today: intensely vivid tales, full of the life of bygone days, 
true in substance, but subject to human vagary. Of such 
stuff is woven the story of ancient Vinland. 


Paper was practically unknown in Iceland before 1600, 
but there were plenty of sheep, whose skins could be 
turned into parchment. In spite of smoke and damp, van- 
dalism and the tooth of time, the Icelanders have managed 
to rescue some seven hundred vellum manuscripts from 
their medieval past. Most of these have now found their 
way to Copenhagen. They date all the way from 1 1 50 to 
1550, but relatively few of them are originals written in 
the early part of this period. After 1300 the copying of 
older manuscripts became a regular industry. 

In those days of expensive bookmaking, books were 
treasures, and some of the wealthy men of Iceland were 
anxious to build up impressive libraries. They hired 
scribes to copy whatever manuscripts they could lay their 
hands on and to compile elegant new volumes. It often 
mattered less what the books contained than that they 
were beautifully written and attractively illuminated. The 
results were among the finest specimens of Icelandic book- 
making, treasured in Icelandic families for generations. 
The farmer who owned the Flatey Book in the seven- 
teenth century would not part with it for five hundreds 
of land. 

Three of these compilations happen to include the sur- 

The Evidence of History 113 

viving accounts of Norse voyages to Vinland. The oldest 
was written around 1330 for a noted Icelandic and Nor- 
wegian dignitary named Hauk Erlendson, a descendant 
of Thorfinn Karlsevni; after him it bears the name 
" Hauk's Book/ 7 The next was written between 1387 and 
1394 for Jon Hakonarson, an Icelandic squire, and is the 
largest and best preserved of all Icelandic manuscripts. 
In the seventeenth century, when it was rediscovered, it 
was owned by a family living at Flatey (Flat Island) in 
Broadfjord; for this reason it is known as the "Flatey 
Book." The third and youngest dates from the first half of 
the fifteenth century, and bears no other name than its 
catalogue number in the Arnamagnean Library in Copen- 
hagen, AM. 557, 4to. 

All of these are copied from earlier manuscripts, proba- 
bly going back to the thirteenth century. The first 
contains a saga which is entitled " Thorfinn Karlsevni's 
Saga " (though only in a late hand) . The second contains 
two sections inserted into a saga of King Olaf Trygvason, 
one of which is entitled " Tale of the Greenlanders." The 
third contains a saga entitled " Saga of Eric the Red." Of 
these the first and third are practically the same; the dif- 
ferences are only such as might have been caused by 
scribes and copyists. We shall unite these under the title 
of the " Karlsevni Saga," because they deal chiefly with 
the exploits of Thorfinn Karlsevni. The second saga, 
which appears in the Flatey Book, we shall call the 
" Greenland Saga/' These two versions stand in the sharp- 
est contrast. 

The Greenland Saga tells us that the first man to sight 
American shores was one Bjarni Herjulfson, while the 
Karlsevni Saga says that it was Leif Ericson. According to 
the Greenland Saga, Leif s discovery was a planned ex- 
pedition, but according to Karlsevni's Saga it was an acci- 

1 14 Voyages to V inland 

dent. The former gives a detailed account o Leif 's voyage, 
while the latter concentrates on Karlsevni. The former 
also tells about separate voyages made by Leif s brother, 
Thorvald, and his half-sister Freydis. The latter insists 
that the others accompanied Karlsevni on his voyage. 

These and other discrepancies show that two separate 
traditions were current in Iceland about the Vinland 
voyages. The one found in the Karlsevni Saga was the 
generally accepted one in Iceland, as we see from certain 
references in other sagas. The sagas of the Norwegian 
kings, including Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla^ take 
it as a fact that Leif Ericson was blown out of his course 
on the way home from Norway in the year 1000 and found 
Vinland on this trip. This appears to be the official ver- 
sion, probably kept alive by the distinguished descendants 
of Thorfinn Karlsevni and Gudrid. Quite isolated from 
this tradition and without any apparent influence in 
either direction stands the account of the Greenland Saga. 
This story is less interested in Karlsevni and concentrates 
on the family of Eric the Red in Greenland. It has been 
suggested that perhaps this saga lived at first in Greenland 
and was later brought to Iceland. 

During the past half century a bitter debate has been 
waged concerning the relative merits of these two ver- 
sions. Until 1887 there was a general preference for the 
Greenland Saga, but in that year the Norwegian historian 
Gustav Storm vigorously attacked this version and in- 
sisted on the superior accuracy and consistency of the 
Karlsevni Saga. Specialists in Icelandic literature have in 
general supported this view (Jonsson, ThorSarson, Her- 
mannsson) . Other students of the subject, however, whose 
approach has been less purely literary (Hovgaard, 
Gathorne-Hardy, Br0gger) have been unwilling to dis- 
miss the Greenland Saga in so cavalier a fashion. Their 

The Evidence of History 1 1 c; 

attitude has been that of Professor Hovgaard: " The 
truth probably lies between the two sagas/' 

This much is certain: in their eagerness to assert the 
superiority of the Karlsevni Saga, its advocates have over- 
shot their mark. It is true that the Karlsevni Saga stands 
close to the historical family sagas of Iceland, while the 
Greenland Saga in certain respects Is reminiscent of the 
so-called " Lying " or " Fabulous " Sagas. But to main- 
tain, as some do, that the Greenland Saga is only a con- 
fused reminiscence of the other, or to heap lofty sarcasm 
on its weaknesses is a fall into the opposite extremity. One 
eminent authority can even bring himself to write that 
Tyrker is "of course, a caricature of Thorhall Hunts- 
man/' though the similarities are insignificant. Some of 
the weaknesses these writers bring up against the Green- 
land Saga are imaginary, as their assertion that Tyrker 
was drunk when he brought the grapes back, or that Leif 
loaded his ship with grapes in the spring. Both of these are 
inferences which the text does not support. These writers 
also have a tendency to minimize the weaknesses of the 
Karlsevni Saga, its story of unipeds (not included in the 
present version) , its illusory Indian attackers, its strange 
Scotch runners with the names Haki and Hekja, its moun- 
tains in Vinland, Leif s gallant adventure in the Heb- 
rides, the two Skraeling boys and their mythical Greater 

Even the most confirmed opponents of the Greenland 
Saga admit that there are certain " reminiscences of genu- 
ine tradition " in it. There are statements and episodes 
in it which can only go back to stories by those who acted 
in them. If so, it is extremely unlikely that those who told 
this saga needed to draw on the Karlsevni Saga at all, or 
had ever heard of it. They were out of touch with Ice- 
landic saga tradition, and lacked the means of checking 

n6 Voyages to V inland 

up on certain facts of chronology. But they were better 
informed on what happened in the family of Eric the Red 
than was the official Icelandic tradition. 

When the two versions agree, it is therefore a double 
confirmation of historical accuracy. When they disagree, 
it is partly due to a difference in stress and point of view. 
The K arise vni Saga is the story of an Icelandic family, 
polished off with all the refinement of its literary type. 
The Greenland Saga is a tale of exploration and adven- 
ture, more episodic, and inclined to stress the miracles and 
surprises of the amazing new country beyond the seas. 


A papal letter written in 1492 declares that " Greenland 
lies at the end of the world/' Few Americans realize that 
since its first exploration by Eric the Red in 982, Green- 
land was well-known as the extreme outpost of European 
civilization. It appears regularly on medieval maps, and 
throughout the Middle Ages commercial and ecclesiasti- 
cal contact with the European continent was maintained. 
For nearly five hundred years a very considerable Norse 
colony supported life on a strip of western coast between 
a stormy sea and the vast inland ice of Greenland. 

American discovery begins with the story of this colony, 
for Greenland was the last stepping stone in the Norse 
trek across the North Atlantic. The explorers and colo- 
nizers who reached out to the American continent were 
sons and friends of the man who settled Greenland. 

But Greenland is itself a part of the New World, and 
the story of its discovery and settlement a part of Ameri- 
can history. It also deserves a place in our narrative for its 
own intrinsic fascination. On the western coast of Green- 
land are still visible the ruins of the first structures built by 
white men in the western hemisphere. These have been 
excavated by the hundreds, and shown to be the sites of 
Norse churches, farm houses, and barns* Their skeletons, 

n8 Voyages to V inland 

implements, jewels, inscriptions, and even clothing are 
vivid confirmations of the story told in Iceland's an- 
cient sagas. Modern Danish archeologists have made the 
frozen soil of Greenland yield up a record of viking life 
more vivid and 'complete than that found in any other 
part of the Scandinavian world. 

It all began with one of those lucky accidents that 
marked exploration in an age when sailors were wholly 
at the mercy of the wind and the stars. Sometime after 
900 a certain Gunnbjorn was on his way to Iceland, but 
blew out of his course and sighted land to the west of 
Iceland. A generation earlier Iceland itself had been dis- 
covered in exactly the same way. Gunnbjorn must have 
seen something of the rocky, ice-bound eastern coast of 
Greenland, and found it too uninviting for further ex- 
ploration. His discovery was known, however, and talked 
about in Iceland; but there was too much available land 
in Iceland for any one to bother. 

Many years passed, and Gunnbjorn's Reefs were still 
unexplored. Icelandic society began settling into a rela- 
tively stable pattern, and the age of pioneering was over. 
About 960 a chief in southwestern Norway named Thor- 
vald got into trouble with his neighbors, and found it ad- 
visable to emigrate to Iceland. He and his son Eric found 
nothing to settle on but a bleak shore in the extreme 
northwest of Iceland. Eric, nicknamed " the Red," proba- 
bly from the color of his hair, had no taste for this kind 
of inferiority. He married a girl from a more southerly 
district, cleared a farm in the prosperous valley of Hawk- 
dale, and started to work his way up. But he had terrific 
odds against him, surrounded by well-established and hos- 
tile chiefs, who relished no upstarts. They succeeded in 
getting him banished from Hawkdale, and he had to flee 
to some unprofitable islands in the mouth of the fjord, 

The Evidence of History 119 

where he took up an uncertain and temporary residence. 

These events are all related in the first chapter of our 
saga, which is devoted to the figure of Eric and the great 
decision which grew out of his troubles in Iceland. Eric 
was outlawed a second time, now from all Iceland; not 
because his crimes were so outrageous, but because his 
friends were less powerful than his enemies. In a system 
of family alliances and enmities, with constant maneuver- 
ing for power, Eric got the worst of it. But this defeat 
brought out the real character of the man: he did not turn 
to viking piracy, and he did not try to court the favor of 
kings and chiefs in the older settlements. Instead he de- 
cided to spend the three years of his banishment explor- 
ing new lands and opening up new possibilities. 

After a touching goodbye to his friends and supporters, 
he set off on one of the most amazing voyages of explora- 
tion on record. He hove into sight of the impassable east 
coast of Greenland and followed it southwards, until he 
rounded the southern tip and at length found inhabitable 
land. Here he systematically explored the coast and its 
fjords through three summers and winters. The shore he 
found was not radically different from that of western 
Norway and Iceland; he saw that in spite of its vast dis- 
tance from home, and its bleak, treeless aspect, it was well 
adapted to human life. His enthusiasm was so infectious 
that he was able to spread it to others when he got back 
to Iceland. His propaganda tactics (which included even 
the detail of an attractive name: Greenland) were so suc- 
cessful that several hundred settlers accompanied him on 
his voyage of settlement. That nearly half of them were 
shipwrecked is only additional evidence of what difficul- 
ties and dangers Eric had had to overcome in successfully 
opening up this new land to Norse settlement. 

In Greenland Eric's qualities found then* fulfillment. 

12O Voyages to V inland 

He became the honored patriarch of a settlement that 
eventually grew to include some three thousand inhabit- 
ants. They were grouped in two sections, the Eastern Set- 
tlement where Eric lived, and farther to the north the 
smaller Western Settlement. Eric lived to see his sons 
grow up into hardy explorers, who followed his example 
by pushing on to new lands still farther afield. One of 
them was even received at the Norwegian court, and given 
a royal commission to make Christians out of the heathen 
Greenlanders. But this intrusion upon his patriarchal au- 
thority Eric resented. He grumpily told his son Leif that 
the good deed he had committed by rescuing a ship- 
wrecked crew was offset when he brought " this faker " 
the priest to Greenland. For all he could do, the new 
doctrines intruded themselves squarely into his own 
home. His wife built the first church in Greenland right 
on their farm, and applied direct personal pressure on 
Eric to abandon his paganism. The saga describes the 
agony of Eric's dilemma, in terms that are restrained but 
very pointed. 

From this beginning the Church grew to be a real power 
in Greenland. Sixteen parish churches were built, all of 
stone; in 1112 the first bishop of Greenland left Iceland 
to visit his new see. At Gardar in the Eastern Settlement 
a cathedral was built, ninety feet long and fifty feet wide, 
with glass windows and a timbered gable. In one of its 
chapels there was found in 1926 the skeleton of a bishop, 
with a plain gold episcopal ring on his ring finger, and 
in his right hand a bishop's crozier, a stick of ash with an 
iron ferrule at one end and a beautifully carved head of 
walrus ivory at the other. Bishops were reluctant to make 
the long and arduous voyage to Greenland, certainly an 
unprofitable see. Yet throughout the centuries of its ex- 
istence the Greenland colony maintained its Christian 

The Evidence of History 121 

customs of worship and burial. " The dead lie piously 
with folded arms, and not infrequently with a small 
wooden cross in the hands or on the breast." Runic in- 
scriptions on these crosses often tell the names of the dead, 
and commend them to God. But they also reveal that the 
practice of pagan magic described in our saga did not die 
out with the coming of Christianity. 

Today Eskimos roam the fields that once were popu- 
lated by Norsemen. But there were no Eskimos in this 
part of Greenland when the Norsemen came, nor for 
several centuries afterwards. However simple and primi- 
tive the life of the Norse settlers must have been, it was 
not like that of the Eskimos. The Eskimos were nomads, 
who lived on fish and game; they roamed over a wide area 
to find their food. The Norsemen could use these prod- 
ucts only to supplement their diet; they were a settled, 
agricultural people, basically dependent on dairy prod- 
uce. When Eric explored Greenland, he had to be on the 
lookout for those green spots in the inner fjords that meant 
pasturage and fodder for cattle. In these inlets between 
the sea and the glacier the Norsemen raised cows, sheep, 
goats, and pigs in great numbers. The excavations o 
Eric's farm alone show four barns, with room for forty 
cows. No wonder that in the thirteenth century a Nor- 
wegian scribe could write, " It is said that in Greenland 
there are good pastures and there are large and good 
farms, for there they have many cattle and sheep, and 
there they make much butter and much cheese; they live 
on these mainly, and also on meat and game of many 
kinds, reindeer meat, whale meat, seal meat, and bear 

At its best, life in Greenland was very much like that 
of the other Norse colonies of the North Atlantic. Our 
saga describes the jolly winter spent at Brattahlid by 

122 Voyages to Vinland 

Thorfinn Karlsevni and his men. Excavations have 
brought to light neatly carved chessmen of whale bone 
and walrus ivory with which they must have whiled away 
many idle hours. Clothing found in the graves bears testi- 
mony that men and women tried to follow the styles of 
their contemporaries in Europe. One of the poems of the 
Elder Edda claims to have been composed in Greenland, 
and it may be true, for the poem incongruously intro- 
duces a polar bear into the epic tale of the Nibelungs. 
Even on this remote shore the poetic vein of the viking 
bards could find expression, as is confirmed by the verse 
of our saga. 

The difference between this and the other Norse colo- 
nies was that life in Greenland was more precariously 
poised. Grain could not grow there; iron was extremely 
scarce; wood for fuel and building had to be imported or 
found as driftwood. The Icelandic annals report that in 
1189 there came to Iceland a Greenland ship which was 
held together almost wholly by wooden nails and whale 
bone. For a long time the chief product of Greenland that 
could be bartered for the products of European civiliza- 
tion was walrus ivory* This was supplemented with seal 
hides and live polar bears. But toward the end of the Mid- 
dle Ages the Greenland products lost out in the compe- 
tition of other wares; walrus ivory gave way to elephant 
tusks from Africa. The colony was no longer so tempting 
to commercial enterprise. 

In the meanwhile political conditions in the homeland 
were rapidly changing. In 1397 Norway entered into a 
union with Sweden and Denmark which drew her atten- 
tion away from the North Atlantic colonies* Since 1561 
the Greenlanders had been subject to the Norwegian 
king, and he had promised to send them two ships a year; 
it was forbidden for others to trade with them. But in 

The Evidence of History 123 

1349 Scandinavia was ravaged by the Black Death; a gen- 
eral impotence fell over these countries, and from 1367 
there is no record that any royal ship ever left for Green- 
land. In 1408 a party of Icelanders was blown off its course 
and landed in Greenland. They are the last Icelanders 
known to have visited the Greenland colony. At this time 
the Western Settlement was already blotted out, and a 
new menace threatened the Norsemen, the Eskimos. 
From the middle of the thirteenth century they had been 
pressing southward. Although their methods and equip- 
ment for fighting were inferior to those of the Norsemen, 
they had the advantage of greater numbers. 

But by the fifteenth century the Norsemen themselves 
were not the hardy specimens of manly perfection that 
had harried Europe five centuries before. The skeletons 
from Greenland graveyards that have been excavated and 
minutely analyzed by Danish scientists tell an amazing 
tale of malnutrition and degeneration. All indications 
point to a lowering of vitality due to a worsening of 
climate. A few bad years would be enough to wipe out the 
margin that made life possible. Their height was down 
to five feet; their life span to thirty; their skeletons were 
malformed, atrophied, constricted, until their women 
could no longer bear children; their teeth were worn down 
and their brain capacities reduced. In the words of Pro- 
fessor N0rlund, *' They had become an inactive flock of 
debilitated individuals, undersized and deformed/' 

Yet the Eastern Settlement must have lingered on 
toward the end of the fifteenth century, when the atten- 
tion of Europe was again directed to the west. Some of 
them may have been alive when Columbus set out for the 
Indies. In 1519 Christiern II, King of Denmark and Nor- 
way, made plans for " sending a huge fleet to win back 
Greenland from the heathen/' But contact with Greenland 

124 Voyages to V r inland 

was not again established until the Englishman John Davis 
went ashore years later, in 1585. In 1721 a Norwegian 
missionary, Hans Egede, went to Greenland in the hope 
of finding his old countrymen and winning them back to 
the true faith; but he stayed to become the apostle of the 

The chain that had tied the Norse settlements of the 
North Atlantic together had been too weak. Greenland 
was broken off, and it is no wonder that the very last link, 
America, was entirely lost in the gathering dust of time. 


The Norsemen found America in just the same way that 
they had found Iceland and Greenland, and before that 
the Shetlands and the Faroes: by a combination of luck and 
skill. Wind and storm drove the viking boats out of their 
familiar channels into sight of new shores. Reports of the 
survivors were eagerly heard by enterprising men who 
saw a chance of wealth and adventure in the search for new 
lands. After the discoverers and explorers came the set- 
tlers, who set out with friends and family, goods and live- 
stock to make their homes in greener pastures. This had 
been the pattern of each preceding step in viking expan- 
sion, but only for Vinland do we have a detailed picture 
of the whole process, lighted by human episodes. That 
Naddod who first sighted Iceland and that Gunnbjorn 
who first saw Greenland are only names; but Bjarni Her- 
julfson is vividly real to us, because he lived within the age 
rescued to our gaze by the Icelandic Saga. 

Bjarni was a merchant viking, who carried goods in his 
own ship between Norway and Iceland sealskins, wool, 
down, and fish from Iceland in exchange for wine, grain, 
iron, and timber from Norway. He was a skillful mariner, 
willing to try a course he had never sailed for the sake of 
being with his father. But the weather blew him far to 

126 Voyages to V inland 

the south of Greenland, his destination. He may have 
drifted as far as the New England coast, which he knew 
was not Greenland because it bore the wrong aspect and 
faced the wrong way. The coast sloped to the north and 
east, so he set sail in the only direction he could take to 
reach a likelier shore. He did not need to hug the coast, 
for a skilled seaman can sense its presence even when it is 
out of sight. He probably skirted Nova Scotia and New- 
foundland, and then struck boldly across Davis Strait to 
his destination. 

Nothing was done about his discovery in Greenland 
until Leif, a son of the patriarchal Eric, grew old enough 
to start sailing. He showed a boldness worthy of his stock 
by sailing straight across to Norway without the usual stop 
in Iceland. It was the first non-stop sail of the Atlantic, 
slightly marred by a forced landing in the Hebrides, and 
a subsequent gallant adventure. His purpose in Norway 
was that of so many Icelandic chiefs' sons: to be presented 
at court and gain the wealth and prestige resulting from 
the king's favor. But this king was different from the 
earlier ones. This Olaf had taken up a new religion and 
made this faith a condition of his favor. Olaf Trygvason 
did not hesitate to imprison and put to death those who 
defied his missionary zeal. Shortly before this he had 
rounded up all the leading Icelanders in Trondheim and 
held them as hostages for the conversion of Iceland. Leif 
had his qualms about trying to spread the new gospel of 
peace on earth in Greenland, for he knew his father. But 
the king managed to persuade him, and so Leif took over 
the role of missionary. 

Now it is uncertain whether Leif found America acci- 
dentally on his way home, as the Karlsevni Saga says, or 
whether he made a special voyage of exploration later, 
as the Greenland Saga says. Here the two versions part 

The Evidence of History 127 

company. In the former case the discovery was made in 
1000 A.D., 'as most other Icelandic sources insist; in the 
latter case it was not before 1002. 

Leif was a man of the kind that the Norsemen admired; 
the epithet " lucky/' which he got by rescuing a ship- 
wrecked crew, was a word of greater depth and signifi- 
cance in those days. The king alluded to Leif s luck, and 
Leif later declared that his father Eric had this quality; 
their luck was not an accident, but was felt to be the re- 
sult of very real gifts and abilities. It is in connection with 
Leifs voyage that we first hear the familiar Norse names 
applied to the various parts of the American coast: Hellu- 
land, which may have been Newfoundland or Labrador; 
Markland, which may have been Nova Scotia; and Vin- 
land, which was probably somewhere in New England. 
We shall see later why these identifications are so vague 
and uncertain. 

These new discoveries made a great stir in Greenland. 
The settlements buzzed with excited talk about explora- 
tion. A dream of happier circumstances rose before viking 
eyes the dream of a country flowing with wine and 
wheat, amazing for its gentle winters, full of wood for 
their houses and feed for their cattle. But it soon appeared 
that the dreani was not going to be too easy to realize. 
Thorvald, a brother of Leifs, was the first to pay for it 
with his life. He led an expedition in 1 004, if we can rely on 
the Greenland Saga, but in the second year of his absence 
he met the natives, and fell a victim to their arrows. His 
men returned in 1007, and the following year a third 
brother, Thorstein, made the same attempt. But he, too, 
seems to have lacked his brother Leifs and his father 
Eric's luck, for he was driven about by storms all summer 
and never caught sight of Vinland. 

Then a new figure comes into prominence in our 

128 Voyages to V inland 

saga, an Icelandic merchant named Thorfinn the Prom- 
ising (Karlsevni) . According to the reckoning of the 
Greenland Saga he got to Greenland in 1009; the Karls- 
evni Saga is less definite, requiring only that he get there 
after 1002. Karlsevni belonged to a wealthier and more 
powerful society than did the Greenlanders; in a pinch 
he could even do a good turn to their chief, Eric the Red. 
He had what the Greenlanders lacked, the capital with 
which to equip a true expedition of settlement. His pur- 
pose in coming to Greenland was simply to make a good 
deal; but the exciting news he got there turned his mind 
to a new and greater enterprise. 

There is something impressive about this expedition, 
with its three ships and its hundred and sixty men. It was 
more than a raid, or a jaunt of adventure; there were 
women and cattle aboard, regular equipment for a per- 
manent settlement. The Greenland Saga specifically says 
that " they planned to settle in this county, if it were possi- 
ble." There were both Icelanders and Greenlanders 
along, and among the crew and its leaders such miscel- 
laneous personalities as the noble Bjarni Grimolfson and 
the glowering, but indispensable pagan ThorhalL 

Karlsevni followed a different route from that of his 
predecessors; he chose to start from Greenland's West- 
ern Settlement, and must therefore have hit the American 
coast farther to the west and north, probably somewhere 
in Labrador. He coasted along its shore to the southeast, 
and his Markland may well have been somewhere in 
Labrador or Newfoundland. From here on the saga gives 
such intricate and confusing sailing directions that it is 
quite likely he sailed through the Strait of Belle Isle into 
the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Here he spent his first, unfortu- 
nate winter in America. The men were so busy exploring 
that they gathered no supplies for the winter, probably ex- 

The Evidence of History 129 

pecting that the winter would be mild. But it turned out to 
be very severe, and the saga pictures their unhappy predic- 
ament. There were no grapes, and this was clearly not the 
Vinland they had heard about. Thorhall's sarcastic verses 
express the dissatisfaction of many in the party. But in 
the spring Karlsevni made his way out of this area, proba- 
bly around Nova Scotia and down the coast of New Eng- 
land and Leif 's Vinland. 

Here he met his first savages. Discouraged by the dis- 
astrous encounter, he retreated to the original camp in 
the more secure Streamf jord. He sought the lost Thorhall 
in the inner parts of the Gulf, but in vain. On his way 
home he picked up a couple of savages, mere lads, who 
may have been either Eskimos or Indians. In any case it 
is a mistake to make anything out of their supposed bab- 
blings. Then he sailed across Davis Strait again to his des- 
tination in the Eastern Settlement of Greenland, reach- 
ing it in i o 1 3 as the Greenland Saga reckons. 

While the voyage itself bears all the marks of authentic 
history, there is an air of imaginative embroidery about 
some of its details. The story of how Freydis terrified the 
Indians is an amusing piece of Icelandic slapstick, selected 
by one of the saga narrators for its effective character por- 
trayal. But it has been shown by Stefan Einarsson that this 
episode may reflect more ancient beliefs, the magic fear 
inspired in primitive peoples by the violation of a taboo. 
Similar behavior is recorded in Irish literature, among the 
ancients by Plutarch, and is reported in our own day from 
the Lapps of northern Europe, Cii Chulainn, the Irish 
hero, was one of those whose strength was sapped at the 
sight of feminine nakedness. 

There still remains a voyage of quite a different charac- 
ter from the others, so base and senselessly cruel that many 
regard it as a mere invention. In the Flatey Book version 

130 Voyages to Vinland 

Freydis is said to have sailed to Vinland in 1014 and re- 
turned in 1015 after the foulest and most unmotivated 
murder spree in all Icelandic literature. Her earlier ex- 
ploits against the Indians were amazing, even amusing; 
this tale is sheer horror. It violates both decency and prob- 
ability, and Leif s acquiescence is utterly un-Icelandic. 
In her amazonic strength of character, however, she does 
not stand alone among Norse women of ancient days. 
Their position was a privileged one, and their influence 
on history could more than once be baneful enough. Such 
was Hallgerd in the Saga of Burnt Njal, who refused to 
give her husband a lock of her hair to mend his bowstring, 
even though his life depended on it, because she re- 
membered an insult he had offered her years before. 

Whatever we think of Freydis and her harshness, we 
must see in the portrait of her character one of the many 
striking depictions offered us by the saga. We cannot now 
say how much is history and how much is art in these de- 
scriptions, but all of them help to build up an unforget- 
table picture of ancient Norse life. We see Eric, undaunted 
by men but subdued by his wife's passive resistance, the 
patriarch of his colony but troubled to think that a chance 
visitor would go back to Iceland and complain of the enter- 
tainment. We are amused by the German Tyrker, who is 
so excited by his discovery of the grapes of his childhood 
that he relapses into his native tongue, and by Thorhall 
who calls on the Thor for whom he has been named to 
produce a whale, only to find that it poisons the cooks. 
We are impressed by the noble Gudrid, whose son Snorri 
was the first white child known to have been born in 
America, and who managed the rare feat of winning over 
her mother-in-law. That she took the veil and went to 
Rome is certainly an anachronism, and was probably in- 
vented by one of the three bishops who descended from 

The Evidence of History 

her. The decision o Bjarni Grimolfson to perish rather 
than break a promise he had made is entirely in keeping 
with the stern ethics of ancient Norse life. 

The sagas grew up in an age of struggle between primi- 
tive beliefs and the organized church of Christendom. 
The description of the witch whom Gudrid assisted is 
classic for the insight it gives into pagan Norse folklore. 
Its elaborate detail and sumptuousness of display forbid 
us from believing that it really took place in primitive 
Greenland. But even if we grant that some later admirer 
of Gudrid inserted it here to glorify his heroine, this dra- 
matic picture of Norse witchcraft is none the less substan- 
tially true. In the story of Thorstein Ericson's death we 
make the acquaintance of Iceland's exceedingly substan- 
tial ghosts. When Eric the Red refused to start on a voyage 
because it opened with a bad omen, he was obeying ancient 
beliefs. Eric represents in his person the spirit of the old 
gods, whose worship was closely tied to the family struc- 
ture and was a prerogative of the viking chiefs. But he was 
doomed to defeat, for Greenland could not refuse to fol- 
low the times; its economic and social welfare was tied up 
with religious conformity. 

Again and again we are reminded that the voyages to 
Vinland were not undertaken for the sheer love of adven- 
ture and exploration. There is constant allusion to some- 
thing called in Old Norse " landskostir/' the natural ad- 
vantages of the land, which we have variously translated 
as " natural character/' " the generosity of nature," and 
" resources." These were very real advantages, which con- 
tributed directly to the support of human life and to the 
increase of human wealth. As the Greenland Saga quite 
frankly puts it, " People were talking of the journey to 
Vinland, for this seemed an open road to wealth and 
honor." Places that could be lived in, and products that 

Voyages to Vinland 

could be turned to advantage, this was what Vinland 
seemed to offer above all others. Even the chilly Stream- 
fjord satisfied the basic requirements o Scandinavian ex- 
istence in the colonies of the North Atlantic, for did it not 
furnish " game on the mainland, birds' nests on the island, 
and fish in the sea "? 

The relations between Norsemen and the American 
natives are among the most colorful and convincing fea- 
tures of the saga narratives. Both versions agree that these 
relations began with friendly barter and ended in de- 
structive battle. It has been justly said that these encoun- 
ters were the first between Europeans and savages in the 
modern world. They form a very instructive introduction 
to European colonial history. Without any previous train- 
ing in how to treat natives, the Norsemen showed all the 
traits of greed, unfairness, and exploitation that have char- 
acterized European colonial expansion. Both versions 
show, though in different ways, how the Norsemen failed 
to give the savages full value for their goods. They show 
the naive wonder of the savages at such unheard-of phe- 
nomena as iron weapons, red cloth, milk, and fiery bulls. 
They also show the mobility and warlike quality of these 
savages, and the cruel measures to which the Europeans 
resorted to protect themselves from their fury. 

Most of the details of Skraeling life given in the sagas 
can be verified among the Indians of eastern America. 
John Cabot wrote of the Indians he met that " they use in 
war bows, arrows, darts, lances, wooden clubs, and slings." 
The mysterious ball which the Skraelings threw at the 
Norsemen is explained by H, R. Schoolcraft, an authority 
on the Ojibwa Indians, who says that they used a large 
instrument of war consisting of a large heavy stone 
wrapped in an animal pelt and put on a pole; Schoolcraft 
calls it a " balista," which tallies with the saga. As School- 

The Evidence of History 

craft puts it, " brought down among a group of men on a 
sudden it produced consternation and death/' Henry 
Hudson tells about the Indians that " they brought many 
beaver skinnes and other fine furres, which they would 
have changed for redde gownes." This might have been 
taken right out of the Karlsevni Saga. The food of the 
sleeping savages, animal marrow mixed with blood, sug- 
gests the " moose-butter " made of moose bones by the 
Indians and used as provision on their journeys, according 
to one early writer on Nova Scotia. The skin-covered boats 
sound like Eskimo kayaks, but were entirely different in 
construction and purpose. The Norsemen might have 
mistaken birchbark for skin on a hasty inspection; but 
there are also said to be Indian tribes who cover their 
canoes with skins. The practice of sleeping under the 
canoe which is noted in the saga was also observed by Car- 
tier in the sixteenth century. 

Many have tried to trace Norse influence on the lan- 
guages, myths, and customs of the Indians, but all such 
efforts have been dilettantish and fantastic. These savages 
were certainly in no mood to be influenced by the Norse 
invaders. After the first peaceful meetings, the whole re- 
lationship was sealed in bloody combat. The Norsemen 
might win a skirmish, but their iron weapons could not 
offset their tremendous inferiority in numbers. They 
lacked the crushing advantage which firearms conferred on 
later European invaders of America. 

The question has been asked: if the Norsemen discov- 
ered America, why did they not settle it as well? Karlsevni 
answered that question already in the eleventh century: 
" Even though the country was richly endowed by na- 
ture, they would always live in dread and turmoil because 
of the enmity of those who lived there before/' This, and 
nothing else, was the cause of the abrupt end of Norse 

134 Voyages to vmiana 

colonization in America. Always on the lookout for profit- 
able lands, ready to push on into the wilderness i life 
were possible there, they got as far as Greenland. Here 
they stood on the threshold of a land of promise such as 
no Scandinavian had ever before seen, and they were full 
of the wonder of it; they called it Vinland, and added an 
epithet, " the Good/' But between them and this dream 
stood an implacable reality, the hostile peoples of Amer- 
ica. The American Indian succeeded in beating off these 
first European invaders in a skirmish that was a tiny cur- 
tain raiser to the great battle of later ages. 

The Norsemen in Greenland and Iceland told their 
children the strange story of Vinland, but the impulse to 
expansion was gone. In the course of time even the land- 
marks of the journey grew faint in their memories, for 
these things need to be kept alive by continuous and re- 
peated sailings. Scattered efforts were made to maintain 
contact, at least with Markland, where timber could be 
fetched. A bishop sailed out to seek the lost souls of the 
heathen. But nothing came of it; the chance of the vikings 
to be something more than a flash in the pan of world his- 
tory had come and gone, never to return. 


The search for Vinland has exercised a strange fascination 
on men's minds. Both lay and learned have spent many 
eager hours trying to decipher the mystery of Vinland. 
Discussion has gone merrily on ever since the Norse 
sources were rediscovered, and the geography of the Amer- 
ican continent more fully explored. Even sober scholars 
have been given to extravagant and unfounded assertions 
when dealing with this topic. Yet it must be granted that 
in a century of study much useful information has been 
turned up to throw light on the problem. Philologists, 
historians, astronomers, naval experts, geographers, bot- 
anists, and just plain enthusiasts have worked hand in 
hand towards its clarification. No wholly satisfactory solu- 
tion is in sight, and until some one undertakes a more 
searching investigation of the entire Atlantic seaboard 
than has yet been made, the problem seems to have been 
pushed as far as the sources permit. 

At first blush the Vinland sagas seem remarkably pre- 
cise and detailed. They give distances and directions, de- 
scriptions of the lands visited, and numerous details con- 
cerning their climate, their flora and fauna, and their 
native inhabitants. Yet in all of these details there is prob- 
ably not a single one whose identification with recognized 

1 36 Voyages to Vinland 

places and phenomena on the American coast has not been 
disputed. Not one of the numerous names in the sagas has 
been identified with such certainty that it has won gen- 
eral recognition among students of the subject. Vinland, 
the most important, has by competent scholars been lo- 
cated in such various places as Newfoundland (Hov- 
gaard) , the mouth of the St. Lawrence (Steensby) , Nova 
Scotia (Storm) , northern New England (ThorSarson) , 
Massachusetts (Fiske) , Rhode Island (Rafn) , New York 
(Gathorne-Hardy) , and Virginia (Mjelde) . Most of these 
identifications are accepted only by their originators, who 
level at each other bitter charges of distorting the saga 
text to fit preconceived theories. As a matter of fact, every 
writer has disregarded something or other in the saga text; 
if he did not, it would be impossible to identify anything. 
Still no serious student takes the attitude of the Canadian 
journalist who boldly wrote, " Let us take some liberties 
with the old sagas, as they weren't accurate anyway/* (He 
was trying to locate Vinland in Hudson Bay!) 

For there is one thing on which all who have really 
studied these sources are agreed: that through the mist of 
their frequently confusing and inconclusive details we dis- 
tinguish the outlines of the North American continent. 
The eastern seaboard is exceedingly long and compli- 
cated. Out of the great number of bays and capes and 
islands which the vikings observed, only a few could be 
kept in mind. If they made no more than the five voyages 
recounted in the sagas, their memory could no longer be 
refreshed by constant traversing of the course, and so dis- 
tances and directions would naturally become distorted. 
The intricacy of experience would gradually give way to 
the simplicity of a good story. 

The general resemblance that still remains is too strong 
to be accidental. They sailed south and southwest from 

The Evidence of History 

Greenland; what land could they reach but America? 
They found a shore that was stony and unprofitable, with 
high mountains. They sailed on and found a more invit- 
ing coast, with low-lying, wooded shores; and still farther 
to the south, a fair and tempting land, teeming in all the 
resources that made life possible. Here they found plants 
and trees that were unfamiliar to them, and natives of a 
warlike cast, who are too much like American Indians to 
have been invented. Every one of these statements is found 
in manuscripts written before any European suspected 
the existence of America. One of them might have been 
hit upon by fancy; but no imagination could assemble so 
surprising an array of coincidences with realities now well 
known, but then unsuspected. Especially not, if it is true 
as one distinguished son of Iceland (Finnur Jonsson) has 
declared, that his countrymen are noted for their lack of 

Out of the mountain of writings on this subject we shall 
try to sift the most relevant facts and view with unbiased 
eye the many theories that have been advanced. In brief 
summary we shall present the details that may have some 
value in identifying the places visited by the Norsemen. 
These occur in connection with the voyages of Bjarni 
Herjulfson (Chapter 2) , Leif Ericson (Chapter 4) , and 
Thorvald Ericson (Chapter 5) in the Greenland Saga, 
and of Thorfinn Karlsevni (Chapters 10-11) intheKarls- 
evni Saga. Each of these accounts includes some scattered 
information about sailing directions, distances traversed, 
topography, latitude, climate, flora and fauna, and the 
native inhabitants. 

SAILING DIRECTIONS. When Bjarni Herjulfson was 
blown to the American coast on his way from Iceland to 
Greenland, he sighted first a shore that was marked by 
small, wooded knolls. Before a southwest wind he sailed 

138 Voyages to V inland 

for two days to a second country, which was level, but well 
wooded; then three days to a country with high moun- 
tains, topped with ice, and then four days to the southern 
tip of Greenland. Leif sailed the same course in reverse 
order, and for the last leg the direction is given as south- 
west. Thorvald explored the coast with Leif s camp as a 
base, first to the west, then to the north and east. All of 
these directions fit excellently with the general southwest 
northeast slope of the American continent. They sug- 
gest that the sons of Eric steered an outside course, off the 
land, Karlsevni's voyage, on the other hand, started from 
the Western Settlement in Greenland and sailed due 
south, then southeast; this course would have brought 
him to the southern tip of Labrador. From here there are 
no sailing directions until he gets to his first winter camp 
at Streamfjord; on his excursion to Vinland he sailed 
south along the coast and to the east of it. When he re- 
turned to find the lost Thorhall, he sailed from Stream- 
fjord north, then west, then apparently south again. These 
complicated directions strongly suggest that he had gotten 
into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and skirted the north end 
of Nova Scotia. But all the directions are vague, and must 
be allowed a good deal of latitude. 

DISTANCES. These are everywhere given in terms of 
days' sailing (doegr) . Unfortunately there is vacillation in 
Icelandic usage between twelve-hour days and twenty- 
four hour days, and there was no accepted equivalent of a 
day's sailing in terms of miles. On the basis of distances 
given between Norway, Ireland, and Iceland estimates for 
a twenty-four hour day's sailing have been made as ap- 
proximately 150 nautical miles. On this basis Bjarni could 
have made it from New England to Nova Scotia in the two 
days given, from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland in three 
days, and from Newfoundland to Greenland in four days. 

The Evidence of History 1 39 

But it looks suspicious that the numbers coincide so neatly 
with the number of the country visited, and this suspicion 
is strengthened when we see the distances given in the 
Karlsevni Saga, which are everywhere " two days/* alter- 
nating with a " long time/' The " two days " is impos- 
sible, for nothing could be reached in that time; so the 
distances of the Karlsevni Saga have to be disregarded en- 
tirely, while something can be salvaged from those of the 

TOPOGRAPHY. The lands sighted show three successive 
phases, which is clearly a simplification for purposes of 
narration and memory. The northernmost was character- 
ized by its high mountains and its stony, barren appear- 
ance, and was known as Helluland. The Greenland Saga 
adds that its mountains were topped by glaciers, and that 
it was an island. To preserve the glaciers, some have moved 
it to Baffin's Land. But the glaciers may simply be snow- 
caps, and the whole description sounds most like Labra- 
dor. Even Newfoundland is not excluded. The second 
country was called Markland on account of its great for- 
ests. Bjarni adds that it was level, Leif that it had broad, 
white beaches, and a gently sloping shoreline, Thorfinn 
that it had an island off the coast to the southeast which 
they called Bear Isle. The topographic descriptions are 
vague, because this kind of country was not what the 
Norsemen were looking for, and no one cared to stay. 
From Labrador to New England there are so many coasts 
that would answer this general description that it can 
hardly be limited to any one stretch. Scholars have placed 
it in southeastern Labrador (Hovgaard, Steensby, etc.),, 
in Newfoundland (Storm, Babcock) , and most commonly 
in Nova Scotia because of its long, unbroken forest coast- 

Those regions that were actually lived in and explored 

x^io Voyages to Vinland 

are more thoroughly described. Between Markland and 
Vinland proper Karlsevni investigated a large region that 
is not noticed in the Greenland Saga, except incidentally. 
There was a cape called Keelness, and long, sandy beaches 
called Wonderstrands because it took so long to pass them. 
Later he came to an island and a fjord with violent tidal 
currents, called Streamfjord. There were mountains and 
beautiful scenery, but severe winter weather and no grapes. 
The sandy beaches suggest Massachusetts, but the other 
features do not. We are led to the region between Nova 
Scotia and Labrador, with its many inlets and tidal cur- 
rents, its mountains and cold winters. A likely contender 
for Wonderstrands is the southern coast of Labrador, 
said to be long, low, and monotonous, while Stream- 
fjord may be Chaleur Bay in New Brunswick (Hermanns- 
son) . But these are only guesses. To the west of this re- 
gion one should expect to find a forest wilderness, which 
checks well enough with the estuary of the St. Lawrence. 
The topography of Vinland proper includes an absence 
of mountains (in spite of the Karlsevni Saga) . Bjarni saw 
small, wooded knolls. Leif found an island to the north of 
the mainland, with a channel between it and a cape jut- 
ting out to the north. West of the cape were broad shallows. 
Here he found a stream flowing into a lake and then into 
the sea. Karlsevni also found a landlocked bay with a river 
running into it and sand bars outside. Thorvald explored 
this shore to the west and found lovely, wooded country, 
with white, sandy beaches; the sea was full of islands and 
great shallows. This whole topographic description points 
unmistakably to the shores of southern New England; 
north of this area the coast is generally rocky and jagged. 
But the details are not clear enough to specify any par- 
ticular locality. An intensive search has been made for 
landlocked bays and lakes by the sea, but with little real 

The Evidence of History 

success; the changes of shoreline over a thousand years are 
too considerable to make it likely that such impermanent 
features would still be there. Rafn was intrigued by the 
coincidence of name between Hop and Mount Hope Bay 
in Rhode Island, while the irrepressible Horsford insisted 
on Boston Back Bay and even proved it by digging up the 
site of Leif s camp at Gerry's Landing! 

LATITUDE* Many investigators have hoped that the as- 
tronomical observation found in the Greenland Saga 

(page 21) would help solve the problem. No feature of 
the story has been more ardently discussed or ingeniously 
investigated. Leif and his men noticed that the days in 
Vinland were much longer in winter than they had been 
in Iceland* They noted specifically that on the shortest 
day of the year the sun's course ran all the way from a 
point on the horizon known in Iceland as " dagmalastaft," 
i.e., breakfast point, to another known as " eyktarstaS," 
i.e., afternoon point. 

Unfortunately no record has remained to tell us ex- 
actly where these points were. A passage in the Icelandic 
ecclesiastical code gives a definition of " eyktarstaS " which 
has given rise to endless astronomical discussion. The 
most reliable, but by no means conclusive result of this 
calculation is that the observation must have been made 
south of the 4Qth degree of latitude, which crosses north- 
ern Newfoundland. But there is little help in this, for no 
one can reasonably place Vinland north of Newfound- 
land. Besides, why should Greenlanders be so amazed at 
the change in the sun's height just four days' sailing from 
their own country? 

A passage in the Edda of Snorri Sturluson has been less 
considered, but seems much more pertinent. It states that 
the sun sets at " eyktarstaS " at the beginning of winter 

(probably about October 14 in Iceland) . This brings out 

Voyages to Vinland 

the real bearing of the passage and the only meaning that 
makes sense from mariners without sextant or compass. 
They were simply trying to express how much longer the 
day was in this region than at home, for just imagine! 
here the sun was as high in the dead of winter as in 
Iceland at the beginning of winter. It is no precise obser- 
vation, but rather a general comparison which suggests 
that they were a goodly distance from home* 

CLIMATE. A salient feature of Vinland was its remark- 
able climate. Karlsevni knew that Streamfjord was not 
Vinland because of its severe winter. Both versions agree 
that there was no winter frost, and that the grass hardly 
withered, so that cattle could graze outdoors, which would 
be a treat to most Scandinavian cows. Exceptionally, such 
conditions can be found in many places along the Ameri- 
can coast, but are generally improbable until one gets 
south of Cape Cod. John Fiske asserts that the winter o 
1889-1890 was just such a one at Boston, and Gray insists 
that it is common on Martha's Vineyard. As a permanent 
feature of the winter climate it is not appropriate north of 
Virginia. But it is unthinkable that the Norsemen would 
not have had more and other things to report had they 
gotten so far south. The substance of this statement is that 
the winters were very different from those of Greenland, 
and it made a better story to say that there was no snow, 
than to say that there was some, but not very much snow. 

FLORA AND FAUNA. Most of the controversy over the 
location of Vinland has raged about the flora, particularly 
the grapes and the unsown wheat. The grapes are the 
ancient and unvarying characteristic of Vinland, attested 
by Adam of Bremen, by the name given to the country, 
and by the unanimous report of the sagas. In both versions 
the grapes are found by non-Scandinavians, a German in 
the Greenland Saga, a most improbable pair of Scotchmen 

The Evidence of History 

in the Karlsevni Saga. Some one had to identify them as 
grapes, for the Norsemen had probably never seen the 
fruit growing, though they had long been acquainted with 
its end product, the proud and aristocratic drink known as 
wine. It is not surprising that both they and their descend- 
ants should have had vague notions about these berries, 
even to the extent of believing that they grew on trees and 
could be preserved through the winter for transport in the 
spring, if this is what the saga really means. 

Astonishing attempts have been made to explain away 
the finding of grapes by scholars who either are skeptical 
of the veracity of these accounts, or who wish to place 
Vinland north of the known limit of the grape. It has been 
suggested that the grapes and the self-sown wheat are 
merely loans from classic tales about the Fortunate Isles, 
or that the grape was really the mountain cranberry (Nor- 
wegian tyttebcer) , a plant with which every Norseman 
was and is familiar from childhood. All this in spite of the 
fact that nearly every explorer of New England and Can- 
ada from later times (Cartier, Lescarbot, Denys, Cham- 
plain, Hudson) mentions wild grapes as an outstanding 
feature of these regions. Along the coast the grape has 
grown wild as fair north as Passamaquoddy Bay between 
Maine and New Brunswick down to this very day and was 
formerly in extensive household use. 

The self-sown wheat of the sagas, also mentioned by 
Adam of Bremen, has been identified as maize by learned 
European scholars who obviously never saw that familiar 
American plant. Correspondingly, a learned American 
scholar has said that it must have been lyme-grass (elymus 
arenaria) , which grows everywhere in Iceland and Green- 
land to this day. The likeliest guess is that it was wild rice, 
which grows as far north as Newfoundland. Whatever the 
Norsemen saw, it must have been identical with what 

144 Voyages to Vinland 

Jacques Cartier saw in 1534, when he spoke o " fields of 
wild corn " with " ears like rye and the grain like oats " 
that " looked as if it had been sown and cultivated." 

The mysterious mosur tree, which bobs up in both ver- 
sions, must have been some sort of rare and precious wood. 
A Swedish word masbjork and a German Maserbirke refer 
to veined birch. A drinking bowl spoken of in one saga as 
made of this material probably was of the type still seen in 
Norway, made from the protuberances or knobs which 
grow on birch trees. Fernald believes it was canoe birch, 
others that it was bird's eye maple. 

Most of the fauna is of little help in determining the 
Vinland locale. Everywhere along the coast there is or was 
an abundance of fish, including the halibut mentioned in 
the Karlsevni Saga. The same is true of the whales caught. 
Nor are the woods teeming with animals especially char- 
acteristic, even if the word " dyr " is taken to mean specifi- 
cally " deer. 15 Only the salmon mentioned in the Green- 
land Saga may be helpful: while today it stays north of 
Cape Cod, it formerly ventured as far south as the mouth 
of the Delaware. 

NATIVES, Even the natives of Vinland have been the 
subject of dispute. Because the word " skraeling," used of 
them in the sagas, is nowadays applied to the Eskimos, 
some have thought that they must have been Eskimos. But 
there is absolutely no evidence that Eskimos have ever 
lived south of Labrador, and the details of the sagas point 
to a more warlike and enterprising race. The word itself 
is one of contempt, like " barbarian " or " savage/' which 
has here been used to translate it. It is derived from a root 
which means " dried up " and is found in such words as 
Norwegian skral "poor, miserable/' Icelandic skrtela 
" dry up/' skr&lna " wither/' The word skraeling itself is 
still used in Iceland to mean a barbarian, while in Nor- 

The Evidence of History 14.5 

wegian dialects it contemptuously refers to a weakling. 
This was the indiscriminate term applied by the Norse- 
men to the first savages they met, the Indians of North 
America, a fine example of European self-esteem. Two 
centuries later the word was still remembered, but no 
Greenlander was alive who had seen an Indian. Then it 
was natural to apply the word to the new savages who 
started crowding in from the north. 

There can accordingly be no doubt that the natives 
were Indians, perhaps of the now extinct Beothuk or Mic- 
mac tribes. But even so they do not help much in localiz- 
ing our Vinland. 

What conclusions can we draw from all these criteria? 
The evidence may seem confusing, but it points in one 
direction. The vikings unquestionably coasted down the 
eastern seaboard of North America. Their descriptions in- 
dicate that they had seen Labrador and Newfoundland, 
the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Nova Scotia on their way. 
But their Vinland could not have been any of these, for 
grapes do not grow north of Passamaquoddy Bay. And it 
was farther south still, for in this region the winters are 
too cold. It could hardly be south of Delaware, how- 
ever, for this is the southern limit of the salmon. All cri- 
teria converge on the Middle Atlantic coast from south- 
ern New England to Delaware as the promised land of the 
Norsemen; there is nothing in the sources that permits 
us to be more specific. We can only say: somewhere on the 
south New England or Middle Atlantic coast Leif Ericson 
and Thorfinn Karlsevni stepped ashore on the American 
continent, and saw that it was good. 


The eyes of Americans were first opened to the Norse 
discovery o their country by a ponderous tome which 
issued from the Royal Danish Society of Antiquaries. 
This magnificent volume was edited by Carl Christian 
Rafn, secretary of the Society, in 1837 an( i entitled Anti- 
quitates Americanae. It contained the original saga texts, 
with Latin and Danish translations, but it did not stop 
there. Rafn was no dry-as-dust, scholar; he was a character- 
istic son of an age full of enthusiasm for all that was old 
and remote and simple. He had never been in America, 
but he was convinced that the vikings must have left relics 
behind on American shores. So sure of this was he that 
when he got information from American correspondents 
about ruined towers and inscribed stones, he at once con- 
cluded that they were of Norse origin, and included them 
in his great work. With naive, childlike delight he ac- 
cepted everything that came to hand. 

Both in their original publication and in a multitude 
of popularizers Rafn's ideas made a tremendous impact 
in New England. Higginson writes, " I can well remem- 
ber, as a boy, the excitement produced among the Har- 
vard professors when the ponderous volume made its ap- 
pearance on the library table/' New England's hallowed 
coasts became doubly sacred as the scene of fascinating 

The Evidence of History 147 

viking exploits. Rafn's unhesitating identifications of the 
very spots where the Norsemen had landed were food for 
the imagination such as New England had never known. 
Prominent men delivered lectures on the subject, and 
poets were touched by this evidence of white life long be- 
fore the pilgrims. 

An age was bound to follow in which Rafn's uncritical 
identifications produced a reaction of disbelief, as these 
were gradually shown to be wrong. A suspicion grew up 
in many minds that the whole story was mere froth, be- 
cause its early advocates had tried to prove too much. 

These doubts have been fully set to rest by the labors of 
a generation of more critical scholars, led by the Nor- 
wegian historian Gustav Storm. In his essay, Studies in 
the Finland Voyages, published in 1887, he tried to clear 
away some of the debris by distinguishing sharply between 
fact and fiction. He reacted vigorously against Rafn's un- 
critical acceptance of everything that might be connected 
with the Norse discovery. Storm's study challenged others 
to examine the problem anew, so that today a whole liter- 
ature of sound scholarship has grown up around the sub- 
ject. These studies have made the position of the Norse 
discoveries in world history clearer and more assured. But 
they have also dissipated some of the many fictions that 
once grew luxuriantly around the discovery. 

While these fictions have been dissipated in the eyes of 
scholars, many of them linger on in the popular mind. 
The Norse voyages to America have carried an imaginative 
appeal to the American public which has affected scholar, 
poet and layman alike. The general ignorance of the 
sources and facts in the case has surrounded them with 
obscurity and mystery. 

We have seen how vague and uncertain are the conclu- 
sions that can be reached about the location of Vinland; 

1x8 Voyages to Vinland 

but the sources do not permit a conscientious student to 
be more specific. If only the Norsemen had been so con- 
siderate as to leave behind a few authentic relics! There 
are plenty in Greenland; that there should be none in 
America has seemed too harsh and disappointing a fact to 
many enthusiastic souls, who have thrown all their ener- 
gies into the search for Norse remains on the American 

We may be sure that if the Norsemen had been able to 
gain any sort of lasting foothold in America, there would 
have been authentic remains. But the sagas give us no war- 
rant to believe that they established residences here. The 
sagas tell us a story of failure; they would not have forgot- 
ten a success. The brief winter residences of the vikings 
can hardly be expected to have left permanent traces. 

In spite of this fact the spinning of fictions goes merrily 
on. It started with the enthusiastic and romantic Rafn, 
was encouraged by the New England poets, and an army 
of amateur archeologists; in modern times it has experi- 
enced a revival among the Norwegian immigrants of the 
Middle West. We are here faced with an intensely inter- 
esting chapter in the cultural history of America, which 
still awaits its chronicler. It bears testimony to the human 
desire for certainty and conviction, and to the perennial 
fascination of the viking discovery. 

Rafn's most important piece of evidence that the land- 
fall of the Norsemen had been in New England was a stone 
generally known as the Dighton Writing Rock, near 
Dighton, Massachusetts. This had been observed as early 
as 1680, and noticed with interest by such famous men 
as Cotton Mather and the English philosopher George 
Berkeley. The earliest theory was that its inscriptions had 
been made by Phoenician visitors to America. In 1789 a 
copy of it was shown to George Washington, who " smiled, 

The Evidence of History 149 

and said he believed the learned Gentlemen were mis- 
taken: and added, that as he had so often examined the 
rude way of writing practised by the Indians of Virginia, 
he had no doubt the inscriptions were made, long ago, by 
some natives of America." 

Rafn accepted the stone as of Norse origin, though he 
had never seen it, and on the basis of crude drawings even 
managed to read a legend in runes, the old Scandinavian 
alphabet, saying that " Thorfinn and his 151 men took pos- 
session of the land/' His imaginative assistant, Finn Mag- 
nusen, found pictured on it the prow of a ship, a disman- 
tled vessel, a shield, and a heifer lying down. With a liberal 
use of fancy he worked this into a design representing 
" Thorfmn's ship, with his wife seated on the stone, hold- 
ing in her hand the key of the conjugal dwelling; beside 
her their three-year-old son. A cock is crowing. Then sud- 
denly approaching war is indicated; Thorfinn seizes his 
shield, tries to protect himself against the approaching 
Skraelings, who assail the Norsemen armed with clubs or 
branches, bows and arrows/' He modestly adds that " cer- 
tain other features of the inscription must be left unex- 

From imaginative scholar to imaginative poet is not a 
long step, and we are not surprised that this theory made 
the Dighton Rock celebrated in song and story. P. C Sind- 
ing was moved to write these fervid lines: 

No shore to which the Northmen came 
But kept some token of their fame; 
On the rough surface of a rock, 
Unmoved by time or tempest's shock, 
In Runic letters, Thorwald drew * 
A record of his gallant crew; 
And these rude letters still are shown 
Deep chiseled in the flinty stone. 

150 Voyages to Vinland 

A greater poet, Sidney Lanier, alluded to it in his famous 
" Psalm of the West/' when he pictured the Norsemen as 
the first American settlers. He placed Leif's camp on the 
Taunton River, where lies the Dighton Rock: 

Then Leif, bold son of Eric the Red, 
To the South of the West doth flee 

Past slaty Helluland is sped, 
Past Markland's woody lea, 

Till round about fair Vinland's head, 
Where Taunton helps the sea, 

The Norseman calls, the anchor falls, 

The mariners hurry a-strand: 
They wassail with fore-drunken skals 

Where prophet wild grapes stand; 
They lift the Leifsbooth's hasty walls 

They stride about the land 

One American poet, however, remained unimpressed, 
and made delightful satire out of the whole business. In 
his Biglow Papers, Second Series (1862) , James Russell 
Lowell pretended to turn the interests of his naive anti- 
quarian parson, Homer Wilbur, M.A., to the subject of 
Norse inscriptions. Wilbur announces with great excite- 
ment that he has found a hitherto unknown " runick in- 
scription " on the east bank of Bushy Brook in North 
Jaalam. He solemnly explains that there are three kinds 
of "runick inscriptions/* '* i. Those which are under- 
stood by the Danish Royal Society of Northern Antiqua- 
ries, and Professor Rafn, their Secretary; 2. Those which 
are comprehensible only by Mr. Rafn; and 3. Those which 
neither the Society, Mr. Rafn, nor anybody else can be 
said in any definite sense to understand, and which accord- 
ingly offer peculiar temptations to enucleating sagacity* 

The Evidence of History , 151 

These last are naturally deemed the most valuable by in- 
telligent antiquaries, and to this class the stone now in my 
possession fortunately belongs/' 

Wilbur then goes on to decipher the inscription, chiefly 
by the process of first making one up and then trying to 
find it in the characters engraved on the stone; to test its 
accuracy he turns the stone upside down and finds that it 
reads exactly the same! This mock inscription informs 
an eager world that here the Bjarni Grimolfson of our 
saga (see Chapter 12) " first drank cloud-brother (i.e., 
tobacco smoke) through child-of-land-and-water (i.e., a 
reed stem.) " " The Saga, it will be remembered, leaves 
this Bjarni to (his) fate ... on board a sinking ship. 
... It is doubly pleasant, therefore, to meet with this 
proof that the brave old man arrived safely in Vinland, 
and that his declining years were cheered by the respect- 
ful attentions of the dusky denizens of our then uninvaded 
forest. . . ." 

Lowell's satire was a just one, and well deserves reading 
in full. Washington's belief that the Indians had a hand 
in the stone has been confirmed by later research; but oth- 
ers, too, explorers and fishermen of modern times, have 
here left their mark. The Norsemen alone are utterly in- 
nocent of any connection with the stone. 

Another piece of evidence accepted by Rafn was a ru- 
ined tower at Newport, Rhode Island, which he asserted 
was built in a style of architecture found in twelfth-cen- 
tury Scandinavia. He believed that it was part of an Ice- 
landic chapel, although no chapel built in this style has 
ever been found either in Iceland or Greenland. After a 
time it was shown that this tower had once been a wind- 
mill, built by Governor Arnold about 1675. 

In 1831 a skeleton was uncovered near Fall River, Mas- 

152 Voyages to Vinland 

saclmsetts, with a brass breast-plate, a quiver of brass 
arrows, and a brass belt. Unfortunately it was burned be- 
fore it could be examined by experts, but there is no rea- 
son to believe that it had not belonged to a quite ordinary 
Indian. In the general excitement over Rafn's book, how- 
ever, some were ready to see even this as a viking relic. 
One day in 1838 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was 
deeply interested in Scandinavia, was riding on the sea- 
shore at Newport and got the idea of connecting the New- 
port tower with the skeleton. To him these were not mat- 
ters of belief, but they furnished him the theme of a poem 
on the Norse discovery. This was the " Skeleton in 
Armor/* a rollicking but extremely un-Scandinavian bal- 
lad, which tells the story of a viking lover and his maiden. 
Hollow-eyed and gaunt, the viking rises from his grave 
to haunt the poet and make him tell his tale: " I was a 
Viking old! " Born " by the wild Baltic's strand," he 
" wooed the blue-eyed maid/' But alas, " she was a Prince's 
child, I but a Viking wild/' So the only way he could have 
his desire was to flee with her across the sea: " Through 
the wild hurricane, Bore I the maiden." 

" Three weeks we westward bore, 
And when the storm was o'er 
Cloud-like we saw the shore 

Stretching to leeward; 
There for my lady's bower 
Built I the lofty tower, 
Which to this very hour, 
Stands looking seaward. 

" There lived we many years; 
Time dried the maiden's tears; 
She had forgot her fears, 
She was a mother; 

The Evidence of History 

Death closed her mild blue eyes, 
Under that tower she lies; 
Ne'er shall the sun arise 
On such another! 

" Still grew my bosom then, 
Still as a stagnant fen! 
Hateful to me were men, 

The sunlight hateful! 
In the vast forest here, 
Clad in my warlike gear, 
Fell I upon my spear, 

Oh, death was grateful! 

" Thus, seamed with many scars, 
Bursting these prison bars, 
Up to its native stars 
My soul ascended! 
There from the flowing bowl 
Deep drinks the warrior's soul, 
Skoal! to the Northland! Skoal! " 
Thus the tale ended. 

A desperate attempt to find the exact location of Leif 's 
landfall was undertaken in the late eighties by a one-time 
Harvard professor of chemistry, Eben Horsford (1818- 
1 893) , who had made a fortune from the sale of Horsford's 
Acid Phosphate, a popular nerve tonic. He spent thou- 
sands of dollars trying to prove that Leif 's landlocked lake 
was none other than Boston Back Bay. At Gerry's Landing 
he dug up what he claimed to be the site of Leif *s camp, 
with a ring of charred stones in the middle. He brought 
over two Icelandic scholars to investigate it for him, and 
although they declared that no certainty could be reached, 
Horsford placed a tablet on the spot announcing it as a 
fact. He was also intrigued by the similarity of Norum- 

l rA Voyages to Vinland 

bega, now a suburb of Boston, to the name of Norway, 
and in 1889 erected a tower there to the memory of the 
Norse discoverers. His etymological fancies went even fur- 
ther, to the derivation of the name America from that of 
Eric the Red, by way of some Indians living in Central 
America! But Horsford's enthusiasm went unrewarded; 
he found no followers, and today his expensive monu- 
ments and his beautifully illustrated volumes are mere 
curiosities. We must conclude, in the words of Whittier, 

Norumbega proved again 
A shadow and a dream. 

The Dighton Rock was not the only inscribed stone 
known to Rafn's generation. At Tiverton and Portsmouth 
in Rhode Island there are several rocks which excited the 
fantasy of the learned Danes. When they found a hook that 
looked like a runic L, they naturally assumed that Leif 
had here left his initial, while anything like a T they took 
to be a reminiscence of Tyrker! In the words of Professor 
Delabarre: " It is an example of solemn silliness posing as 
serious science/' From the study of these and a large num- 
ber of other such rocks along the Atlantic seaboard it has 
gradually emerged that the Indians practised a rude sort 
of rock carving, which never reached the level of alpha- 
betic writing, but consisted of crude human figures, rep- 
resentations of common objects, and just meaningless 
scrawls. Nearly all of these rocks have at some time fed the 
dream of finding Norse remains on the Atlantic seaboard. 

Whittier humorously alluded to one of them in his 
poem, " The Double-Headed Snake of Newbury/' a stone 
at West Newbury, Massachusetts, whose inscription has 
turned out to be nothing but natural cracks in the rock. 
He says of a mythical two-headed snake investigated by 
Cotton Mather, that he does not know 

The Evidence of History 155 

Whether he lurked in the Oldtown fen 

Or the gray earth-flax of the Devil's Den, 

Or swam in the wooded Artichoke, 

Or coiled by the Northman's Written Rock . . . 

A fragment of stone found at Bradford, Massachusetts, 
and shaped something like a human foot, was imagined 
by some to be the remains of a Norse statue. This gave 
occasion to Whittier's poem ** The Norsemen," in which 
he calls it 

Gift from the cold and silent Past! 

Who from its bed of primal rock 

First wrenched thy dark, unshapely block? 

A spell is in this old gray stone, 
My thoughts are with the Past alone! 

What sound comes up the Merrimac? 
What sea-worn barks are those which throw 
The light spray from each rushing prow? 
Have they not in the North Sea's blast 
Bowed to the waves the straining mast? 

Bared to the sun and soft warm air, 
Streams back the Norsemen's yellow hair. 
I see the gleam of axe and spear, 
The sound of smitten shields I hear, 
Keeping a harsh and fitting time 
To Saga's chant and Runic rhyme. 

The wolf beneath the Arctic moon 
Has answered to that startling rune; 
The Gael has heard its stormy swell, 
The light Frank knows its summons well; 
lona's sable-stoled Culdee 
Has heard it sounding o'er the sea, 
And swept, with hoary beard and hair, 
His altar's foot in trembling prayer! 

156 Voyages to Vinland 

In 1956 a rock finally turned up with undeniable runes 
on it, a stone on No Man's Land off the Massachusetts 
coast. Here was the name of Leif Ericson with the date 
" MI " (1001) and some obscure letters which were in- 
terpreted as " Vinland." Unfortunately the Icelanders in 
the year 1001 were not much inclined to make runic in- 
scriptions on stone; they could hardly have known the 
Roman method of numbering; and they would not have 
used either the runes or the spellings of this inscription. 
It is much more likely that it was made by one of Leif *s 
modern admirers than by Leif himself. 

The most ambitious runic stone in all America, how- 
ever, is one that has practically no connection with the 
Vinland voyages, and is amazingly remote from the At- 
lantic seaboard. This is the Kensington Stone, found in 
1898 near Alexandria, Minnesota. It was promptly dis- 
missed as a fraud, and universally so regarded until its 
cause was championed by Mr. Hjalmar Ruud Holand, 
now a resident of Ephraim, Wisconsin. It contains a long, 
narrative inscription of a kind never seen in Scandinavia, 
written in a strange kind of Swedo-Norwegian, with most 
unorthodox runic characters, all chiseled with meticulous 
precision. It is dated 1362 and tells the tale of a party of 
Swedes and Norwegians " on a journey of exploration 
from Vinland to the west/' 

Mr. Holand has presented some very plausible argu- 
ments in its favor; he has shown that it is not lightly to be 
dismissed. His notable talent of persuasion and his charrn 
of manner have won him a great following, to whom this 
is a sacred stone. But he has not yet succeeded in winning 
over any first-rate authority on runes or medieval Scandi- 
navian languages. The Scandinavian authorities are, In 
fact, unnecessarily sniffish about it, which may be partly 
due to a common European suspicion of American frauds. 

The Evidence of History 157 

As the Scotsman Samuel Laing once wrote apropos the 
Dighton Rock, " The Americans dearly love a little hoax." 
But the suspicion of the authorities is also due to the 
strange nature of the stone itself, its message, its language, 
its runes, its location, and the circumstances of its discov- 
ery. Whether one regards it as spurious or genuine, how- 
ever, its undeniable presence in Alexandria, Minnesota, is 
very hard to explain. If it is a hoax, it has not yet been un- 
masked; if it is a voice from the past, its title to speak is still 
in doubt. 

It has encouraged a search for Norse relics in the Mid- 
dle West as intense as that in New England of an earlier 
day. In recent years axes and spear points and other objects 
have been turning up as regularly as runic rocks once did 
in New England. Supposed Norse relics have been dug out 
of American soil in widely scattered parts of the Middle 
West, and the Mandan Indians of North Dakota are 
claimed as viking offspring. Many of these relics are inter- 
esting enough, but none of them have been dug up under 
conditions that positively eliminated fraud or misconcep- 
tions. They are not so distinctive that some other explana- 
tion cannot be given of their origin. Nor has it yet been 
explained why the Norsemen should take any interest in 
exploring the interior of our continent; their entire lives 
were lived along the coast, and while they were skilled sea- 
men, they were poor land travellers. 

The last few years have indeed seen a whole crop of 
books which claim to cast light on certain phases of these 
questions, but which only seem to add to the darkness. One 
writer proclaims in a book entitled " The Viking and the 
Red Man " that half the vocabulary of the Algonquin 
language was derived from Old Norse. The evidence seems 
impressive until one discovers that the forms given are 
misquoted and misunderstood, and that the methods of 

Voyages to Vinland 

comparison are unscientific and antiquated. Another en- 
thusiast fixes upon Portsmouth Harbor as the Streamf jord 
of our saga and publishes a beautifully illustrated book 
with the reassuring title " The Truth about Leif Erics- 
son/' He proceeds on the premise that the sagas tell " noth- 
ing but the truth," even though he does not know whether 
the characters of the saga " could themselves write in long 
hand." A third contributor to the folklore of the Norse dis- 
coveries has located runic inscriptions up and down the 
New England coast by an ingenious technique of inter- 
preting geometrical designs on axes and scratches on stones 
as secret runes. 

It is apparent that the Norse discovery has played an 
important role in the affections and imaginations of the 
American people. Norwegian-Americans have appropri- 
ated Leif Ericson from the Icelanders as a kind of national 
saint, a symbol of group assertion. But even aiftong old- 
stock Americans these early viking explorers have been 
enveloped in an intensely romantic haze. Scandinavians 
and Americans alike whose enthusiasm has been unham- 
pered by a critical sense have seen vast perspectives of 
forgotten Norse colonies in the American wilderness, a reg- 
ular Norse empire stretching from Massachusetts to Min- 
nesota. They have more or less unconsciously wanted to 
magnify the importance of the Norse discoveries* Scan- 
dinavians could not understand that their ancestors missed 
so great an opportunity, and Americans have been puzzled 
that any one could see our grand country and remain so 

While most or all of these attempts to find Norse relics 
on American soil are clearly will-o'-the-wisps, they have 
been a boojpt to poets and a stimulus to American imagi- 
nativeness. Many have felt a gratitude for these relics 

The Evidence of History 1 59 

which was best expressed by Whittier in his poem ** The 
Norsemen ": 

Yet, for this vision o the Past, 
This glance upon its darkness cast. 
My spirit bows in gratitude 
Before the Giver of all good, 
"Who fashioned so the human mind, 
That from the waste of Time behind, 
A simple stone, or mound of earth, 
Can summon the departed forth; 
Quicken the Past to life again, 
The Present lose in what hath been, 
And in their primal freshness show 
The buried forms of long ago. 


The Norse discoveries set up strangely few reverberations 
in world history. We have seen why they fell short of 
permanence; but this does not explain why so little knowl- 
edge of them filtered through to the rest of Europe. At 
the time of the actual discoveries there was intimate 
knowledge of them in Greenland, and pretty full informa- 
tion available in Iceland. People in Norway must have 
known about them, and we see that soon after the middle 
of the eleventh century the news got as far as Denmark. 
Very much abbreviated and garbled it reached the rest 
of Europe in Adam of Bremen's ponderous work. Why 
did this news fail to stir the European imagination and 
awaken the spirit of enterprise? 

The real reason was that in the year 1000 Europe was 
not ready to discover America. Europe and Scandinavia 
consisted of a mass of petty states, bickering and fighting 
among themselves and wholly occupied with internal 
problems. The kings were often nominal or temporary 
heads, whose authority was none too secure. None of the 
European nations was very old, and they were just begin- 
ning to acquire some slight stability. Four hundred years 
later they had grown large and strong; kings sat securely 
on their thrones as the wielders of unlimited power, with. 

The Evidence of History 161 

huge national treasuries at their command. England, 
France, Spain, and Portugal had accumulated large capi- 
tals which could be used to finance expeditions of explora- 
tion and settlement. Firearms made the subjugation of 
native populations easy. Even so, it took the European im- 
perialists a century of heartbreaking failures before they 
gained a secure foothold on this continent. 

The rise of the larger nations of southern and central 
Europe coincided with a decline in the fortunes of the 
small ones in the North. Just as the new age of exploration 
and enlightenment was about to dawn in the rest of Eu- 
rope, the Greenland settlements were disintegrating. Ice- 
land lost her sovereignty in 1262, and much of her cul- 
tural vigor in the century that followed. The sagas passed 
out of oral tradition, and settled into the comparative ob- 
scurity of the manuscripts. These were still retained, and 
frequently copied, but had to compete in the interests of 
the people with foreign romances. Norwegian cultural 
life was struck a drastic blow by the Black Death and the 
successive unions with Sweden and Denmark during the 
fourteenth century. Linguistic changes isolated Norway 
from Iceland, and after the union of Calmar in 1397 both 
countries gradually fell under the dominance of the Dan- 
ish crown. All of these countries became marginal with 
respect to Europe, for they had no center of gravity within 
themselves to assert their ancient traditions. When the age 
of exploration came, no one looked to them for informa- 
tion about great discoveries. Meanwhile the story of Vin- 
land gathered dust in the archives of Iceland. 

Then one day in 1492 a Genoese sailor with the fixed 
idea that he could sail west to reach the Indies ran across 
the same continent that Leif had skirted five centuries be- 
fore. After Columbus came a horde of explorers and con- 
quistadores to-plant the flags of Spain, Portugal, England, 

Voyages to V inland 

and France in its virgin soil. A new world had emerged, to 
which all Europe must orient its existence. 

But the connection between this new world and the 
ancient explorations of the Northmen remained unknown 
and almost unsuspected, even in Iceland. Those who had 
not forgotten about Greenland thought of it as lying " at 
the western boundary of Europe " and they did not get 
much enlightenment from Adam of Bremen's old history 
when it was first printed in 1595. Throughout the six- 
teenth century the Danish kings tried vainly to re-establish 
the contact with Greenland. Not until the seventeenth 
century did intimations begin to bob up of a renewed 
knowledge of the old northern route. The geographer 
Ortelius wrote in 1601 that the inhabitants of Iceland and 
Greenland must have been the first to discover America; a 
Danish clergyman alluded to Vinland in a bit of doggerel 
verse from 1608; the famous Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius, 
credited the Norsemen with the discovery of America 
in 1642, and even maintained that the Indians were their 
descendants. King Christian IV of Denmark sent a series 
of expeditions to Greenland soon after 1600, and in 1619 
he sent Jens Munk to discover the Northwest Passage, but 
apparently without any realization that Scandinavians 
had sailed these waters before. 

The real story of Vinland had to come from Iceland her- 
self. In 1643 t ^ ie scholarly Arngrimur Jonsson, who had 
latinized his name to Arngrimvs lonas, issued his Specimen 
Islandia historicum in Amsterdam. Here the ancient 
saga was for the first time interpreted in the light of the 
new discoveries. The original manuscripts were still hid- 
den away in Iceland; but about this time they began mi- 
grating out of their old repositories by the native hearth 
to the royal libraries of Denmark, It remained for the 
most learned Icelander of his day to give the world the full 

The Evidence of History 163 

text of the sagas. This was the robust Thormod Tor- 
faeus, who was employed by the King of Denmark as Royal 
Historiographer of Norway. 

Torfaeus published in 1705 the first complete account 
of the discovery in a work that was written in Latin and 
won a wide circulation in Europe. In the course of his 
work he dropped more than a hint to the King of Den- 
mark that these discoveries gave him the right to claim a 
part of the North American continent. Everyone else was 
getting colonies, why should not Denmark? But it was too 
late. Stronger powers had already established themselves 
in America, and Torfaeus' book remained of purely aca- 
demic interest. This dream of American colonies haunted 
the Danish mind even a century later, when another 
scholar, Finn Magnusen, declared '* that if the Icelandic 
language . . . had been understood at the Danish court 
three hundred years ago, our country might now perhaps 
have been one of Europe's mightiest states and the world 
might have looked quite different from now." 

But these regrets were idle, and the Danish crown never 
tried to assert its domain farther than Greenland, which 
fell to it as a fruit of its union with Norway. 

Instead, Danish scholars once tried to show that there 
was a vital connection between the Norse discoveries and 
the later feats of Christopher Columbus. The idea was 
first suggested by a Danish geographer, Malte-Brun, in 
1 81 2. A year later it was taken up by Finn Magnusen, who 
discovered that Columbus claimed to have made a voyage 
into the Iceland seas in 1477; Magnusen believed that on 
this voyage he met Icelanders who could have told him 
about the Norse voyages. This appealing idea was accepted 
by Rafn and others, and was made much of by certain 
American writers. In this way the idea, which started as a 
scholar's fancy, has become almost a popular dogma. The 

I$A Voyages to V inland 

notion that Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus 
should have touched hands across the centuries is so dra- 
matic that it carries almost immediate conviction. In a 
poem of 1844 James Russell Lowell represented Colum- 
bus as saying: 

I brooded on the wise Athenian's tale 

Of happy Atlantis, and heard Bjorne's keel 

Crunch the gray pebbles of the Vinland shore . . . 

Unfortunately this is another of the attractive but il- 
lusory will-o'-the-wisps that surround the theme of Vin- 
land. Adam of Bremen's account would hardly have 
tempted Columbus to seek out this " island " to the north 
of Greenland, one day's sail from the frozen icepack. No 
evidence has made it probable that there remained any 
information in fifteenth-century Rome concerning Vin- 
land, This leaves us only one possible connection, sug- 
gested by a note Columbus is claimed to have written. 
This is quoted by his son Fernando and begins " In the 
month of February 1477 I sailed a hundred leagues be- 
yond the island of Tile . . /' As this Tile must have been 
Thule, a medieval name for Iceland, this opens a vista of 
possible connections which have been utilized to the full. 

But the whole structure is based on a series of far-fetched 
assumptions, every one of which has to be true to prove the 
point. We have to assume that Columbus really wrote this 
note (which is disputed by many) ; that if so, he was telling 
the truth (he was not above boasting now and then about 
things he had not done) ; that if he went to Iceland, he 
got most of his facts wrong; that he never again mentioned 
having been there; that he did not just sail past Iceland, as 
the note clearly says, but went on shore; that he was able 
to find natives handy who could talk Latin; that he hap- 
pened to ask the natives about Vinland, and found some 

The Evidence of History 165 

one who had read the rare, ancient manuscripts that told 
about it; that the products of Vinland (grapes, wheat, 
furs) seemed attractive enough to be worth bothering 
about by a man who was dreaming of the silks and spices 
of the Indies; that in all his impassioned speeches to the 
rulers of Europe, trying every means to persuade them that 
there was land to the west, he failed to use this argument; 
and most mysterious of all, that knowing about the loca- 
tion of Vinland, he sailed in an almost exactly opposite 
direction, far to the south! 

The latest effort to bridge all these gaps of missing evi- 
dence flows from the incisive pen of Vilhjalmur Stefans- 
son, famous arctic explorer. He believes in a widespread 
plot on the part of Pope and Spaniards to suppress knowl- 
edge of the Norse discoveries and their effect on Colum- 
bus. This theory has the admirable virtue of explaining 
everything without being in the least capable of proof. 
One wonders just how much Spain really had to fear from 
possible counterclaims to the American continent by the 
Danish king. Stefansson is more successful in his attempts 
to establish the possibility of Columbus's visit to Iceland. 
He shows that Columbus 's statements about Iceland are 
not as absurd as some have thought and that his biogra- 
phers are more reliable than they seem. But he does not 
show that the obvious medieval familiarity with Green- 
land carried with it a knowledge of Vinland, or that Co- 
lumbus in any way added to his stock of information on 
this subject by his presumed voyage to Iceland. There is 
still that hurdle which stopped Gustav Storm, who be- 
lieved that Columbus had been to Iceland, but could find 
no effect of this voyage on his American discoveries. Ste- 
fansson proceeds to count noses among previous writers on 
the subject, but the fact that a majority have believed in 
Columbus's voyage to Iceland proves very little when we 

i66 Voyages to V inland 

begin to consider the quality of some of those noses. 

Even though the Norse voyages could hardly have had 
any significance for Columbus, it is not impossible that 
some oral knowledge of lands to the west circulated among 
the seamen of the North. There was much eager search- 
ing for information about the unknown West in England 
in the fifteenth century, and it is striking that John Cabot 
started from the port of Bristol, which was the center of an 
illicit English trade with Iceland, and not improbably 
with Greenland. But these problems will remain forever 
insoluble, unless new documents turn up to settle them. 

The claim of the Norse discoveries to world interest 
does not lie in their influence on later voyages, or on the 
course of world history. It lies in their own intrinsic value. 
They give American history a colorful opening, a series 
of vivid scenes and characters which we should otherwise 
have missed. They bring America into contact with one 
of the most fascinating cultures of the old world, that of 
Scandinavia in the viking age. They constitute the first 
recorded feelers extended by Europeans towards a new 
world of promise in the west. These early explorers and 
settlers were filled with the same longing for wider oppor- 
tunities as the later ones, and they had to face the same 
problems of sustenance and protection. The Norse vikings 
were the first American pioneers, and as such they deserve 
an honorable place in the pageant of American history. 

When the first Norwegian emigrants of modern times 
began coming to America about a century ago, they were 
at once moved by the parallel between their course and 
that of the ancient discoverers of America. The first poem 
known to have been composed by such an emigrant, writ- 
ten on the Atlantic in 1837, struck the note that has re- 
echoed among Norwegian-Americans for more than a 
hundred years: 

The Evidence of History 167 

As ocean waves in ancient days 

Oft cradled sturdy viking boats, 

So troubled seas and fiercest storms 

Can strike no fear in Norsemen's hearts. 

And so to-day Norwegians greet 

The distant shore of Vinland the Good. 

The knowledge that their ancestors were the first to visit 
these shores has always given Scandinavian immigrants a 
special bond with America. But for them the story was 
tinged with sadness, too, for (in the words of the Nor- 
wegian historian, P. A. Munch) if the vikings had been 
successful, " Scandinavian settlers, with Scandinavian lan- 
guage and nationality, would perhaps have played the 
same role in America as the English and their descendants 

The unwillingness of some American historians of an 
older school to grant full recognition of the Norse discov- 
ery in American textbooks has always been a disturbing 
fact to Americans of Scandinavian origin. As custodians 
of Leif Ericson's honor, they have felt themselves com- 
pelled to agitate for such recognition. The first book pub- 
lished by a Norwegian in this country on a scholarly topic 
was an effort to convert Americans to the Scandinavian 
way of thinking. This was the challenging and pugnacious 
little book entitled America Not Discovered by Columbus, 
written in 1874 by Rasmus B. Anderson, first professor of 
Scandinavian languages at the University of Wisconsin. 
The book was a mere uncritical summary of the arguments 
of Rafn, but it won a wide audience, and led eventually 
to a movement for the official recognition of Leif Ericson 
as the proper discoverer of America. 

The first fruit of Anderson's agitation was the unveiling 
in Boston of a Leif Ericson statue by Anne Whitney on 
October 29, 1887. The original plan had been that An- 

Voyages to V inland 

derson and the great Norwegian violinist Ole Bull should 
gather funds in the Middle West and place the statue on 
the Campus of the University of Wisconsin. But this came 
to naught, and the idea was taken over by a committee 
of prominent Bostonians, including the authors Holmes, 
Lowell, and Longfellow. On November 15, 1887, a replica 
of this statue was set up in Juneau Park, Milwaukee, by 
Mrs. J. F, Gilbert, a wealthy lady of that city whose inter- 
est is said to have been in the statue, not the discovery. 
In the late eighties a statue of Leif by Sigvald Asbj0rnsen 
was erected in Humboldt Park, Chicago. A monument of 
Thorfinn Karlsevni by Einar Jonsson was unveiled in 
Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, on November 20, 1920. 
In 1930 the United States Congress donated a ten-foot 
statue of Leif Ericson by A. Stirling Calder to Iceland on 
the occasion of its millennial celebration of statehood. A 
painting of Leif Ericson discovering America, copied 
from the work of the Norwegian painter Christian Krogh, 
hangs in the halls of Congress, a gift from Norwegians to 
the United States, presented on March 23, 1936. A square 
in Brooklyn, a street in Chicago, parks everywhere have 
been named after Leif Ericson. 

There has even been a strenuous effort to consecrate a 
special day to his memory. It became common in the 
nineties for Norwegian-American organizations to cele- 
brate the memory of the discoverers some time in the fall, 
when the grapes began to ripen. In 1923 an organization 
known as the Leif Ericson Memorial Association was cre- 
ated, and October 9 selected as its date. In states with large 
Scandinavian populations this day has been officially rec- 
ognized as a day to be observed in the public schools. 
The first state to adopt it was Wisconsin, on May i o, 1 92 9; 
the next was Minnesota, in April, 1931; others have fol- 
lowed their example. In one year, 1 935, it was even recog- 

The Evidence of History 169 

nized by the Congress of the United States, as a day of 
tribute to the Scandinavian element in our population. 

In spite of the fulsome veneration with which the figure 
of Leif Ericson has often been surrounded, and his eleva- 
tion to a kind of Norwegian sainthood, the story of the 
sagas lives on as one of the great epics of exploration. It is 
a courageous tale of human hopes and aspirations, capable 
of being enjoyed without any regard to its results or its 



So many excellent books have been drawn upon in the 
preparation of this survey that it is a pleasure to list some 
of them here. These will offer ideas and material for any 
interested reader who may wish to pursue the subject fur- 
ther. For more complete bibliographies of the Vinland 
voyages one should turn to Halldor Hermannsson's The 
Northmen in America (Ithaca, New York, 1909) and 
A. W. Br0gger's Vinlandsferdene (Oslo, 1937) . The most 
comprehensive and unbiased piece of scholarship in the 
field is The Finding of Wineland the Good by Arthur 
Middleton Reeves (London, 1890), a stately work pre- 
senting phototypic reproductions of the original manu- 
scripts with complete translations and documentation. To 
this the reader is constantly and enthusiastically referred. 
Gratitude is also due Professor Halvdan Koht for valuable 
oral suggestions. 

FOREWORD. Page vi: The Holiday Press version ap- 
peared in 1941 in an edition limited to 350 copies; it was 
specially prepared by a group of craftsmen, employes of 
the Lakeside Press, who have made it their hobby to pro- 
duce fine books. Page vi: The original manuscripts are 
now available in a newer reproduction than that of Reeves 
in the impressive series Corpus Codicum Islandicorum 
Medii Aevi, published in Copenhagen by Ejnar Munks- 
gaard. The Flateyjarbok appeared in 1930 (introduction 
by Finnur Jonsson) and the AM 557 4to in 1940 (intro- 
duction by Dag Stromback) . Page vi: Samuel Laing's 
translation of the Greenland Saga appeared originally in 
the appendix of his Heimskringla; or the Chronicle of the 
Kings of Norway (London, 1844) and was reprinted in 
Everyman's Library (Volume 717) in 1915. Reeves' 

174 Notes and References 

translation was reprinted in The Northmen Columbus 
and Cabot, edited by Julius Olson (New York, 1906) . 
G, M. Gathorne-Hardy's translation is a part of his The 
Norse Discoverers of America (Oxford, 1921) and was 
reprinted in A. W. Lawrence and Jean Young, Narratives 
of the Discovery of America (New York, 1931) . Page vi: 
One of the most interesting examples of saga translation 
is The Laxdtela Saga by Thorstein Veblen, famous Nor- 
wegian-American economist (New York, 1925). 

THE SAGA OF VINXAND. Page 4: The interpretation of 
" hall-beams " (Old Norse setstokkar) is that of Valtyr 
GuSmundsson, Privatboligen pa Island i Sagatiden (Co- 
penhagen, 1889) , pp. 213-14, 220-21. Others believe that 
they were the carved posts of the * high seat ' in the hall, 
but this seems unlikely. 

ADAM OF BREMEN. Page 97: Adam of Bremen's Gesta 
Hammaburgensis ecclesice pontificum may be read in a 
German translation by J. C. M. Laurent (Leipzig, 1886) ; 
his life and work are discussed in E. Wessen, Studier til 
Sveriges hedna mythologi och fornhistoria (Uppsala, 
1924) , and in Johannes Steenstrup, Det danske Folks His- 
torie (Copenhagen, 1927) , Vol. II, page 13. Page 98: Svein 
Estridsson (ruled 1047-76) is described by Steenstrup 
in the work just cited, page 9. Page 99 : The story of AuSun 
occurs in Morkinskinna, a compilation of sagas about the 
kings of Norway. Page 99: The * learned Swedish scholar * 
was Olof Rudbeck, who published his Atland eller Man- 
heim at Uppsala about 1 689. 

THE LEARNED MEN OF ICELAND. Page 101: For an ac- 
count of the Christianizing of Iceland see Knut Gjerset, 
History of Iceland (New York, 1924) . Page 101: On the 
runic alphabets see Otto von Friesen, ed., Runorna (Stock- 
holm, 1933) and Helmut Arntz, Handbuch der Runen- 

Notes and References 175 

kunde (Halle, Saale, 1935) . Page 102: Ari froSi's Islend- 
ingabok has been edited and translated by Halldor 
Hermannsson in Islandica, Vol. XX (Ithaca, New York, 

VIKING TRADITIONS. Page 105: Good accounts o viking 

life and civilization are found in T. D. Kendrick, A His- 
tory of the Vikings (New York, 1930), in Axel Olrik, 
Viking Civilization (New York, 1930), and in Allen 
Mawer, The Vikings (Cambridge, 1913) . Page 106: The 
story of Bjorn, son of Brynjolf, is found in EgiVs Saga, 
chapter 32, and is supposed to have taken place about 900. 
Page 108: Old Norse-Icelandic literature is ably summa- 
rized in Bertha Phillpotts, Edda and Saga (New York, 
1931) ; the Sagas in Halvdan Koht, The Old Norse Sagas 
(New York, 1 93 1) and in Knut Liest01, The Origin of the 
Icelandic Family Saga (Oslo, 1930) . Page 109: Lord Rag- 
lan's views are presented in The Hero (New York, 1937) , 
an incisive but somewhat superficial treatment of the 

THE Two VERSIONS. Page 112: See Halldor Hermanns- 
son, Icelandic Manuscripts (Ithaca, New York, 1929). 
Page 113: What is here known as the " Karlsevni Saga " 
has since Storm been generally known as the " Saga of 
Eric the Red "; we are here following the suggestion made 
by Hermannsson (Problem of Wineland, page 29) . An- 
other common name for it is the " Hauksbok Version." 
The Greenland Saga is generally referred to as either the 
" Tale of the Greenlanders " or the " Flatey Book Ver- 
sion/' Page 114: The only important treatments of the 
problem here discussed which appeared before Gustav 
Storm were those of Tormod Torfaeus in 1705 and Carl 
Christian Rafn in 1837. Storm's monograph appeared in 
Aarbtfger for nordisk Oldkyndighed (Copenhagen) , 1887 

Notes and References 

(English version entitled Studies on the Finland Voyages, 
1889) . The other discussions will be found listed in the 

THE LAND OF ERIC THE RED. Page 117: The papal letter 
was issued by Alexander VI and is printed in Norsk His- 
torisk Tidsskrift for 1892, page 407; it also appeared in 
Vol. 1 6 of the Norroena series ( 1 906) , edited by Rasmus B. 
Anderson, where it was claimed to be newly discovered, 
and to refer to Vinland, neither of which is true. Page 1 2 o: 
An excellent account of the Greenland excavations is avail- 
able in Poul N0rlund, Viking Settlers in Greenland (Lon- 
don, 1936) . Many treatises have appeared in Meddelelser 
cm Gr0nland (Copenhagen, 1 890 to date) . The old, 
written sources on Greenland are gathered in Gr0nlands 
Historiske Mindesmcerker (3 vols., Copenhagen, 1845). 
Page 123: King Christiern's plans are revealed by a papal 
letter of June 20, 1519, which may be found in Diplo- 
matarium Norvegicum XVII (1902-13) , 1 164. 

VOYAGES TO VINLAND. Page 159: The eminent special- 
ist in Greenlandic, W. Thalbitzer, has made an effort to 
interpret the babblings of Karlsevni's savages in terms of 
Eskimo (Forhandlinger of the Danish Scientific Academy, 
1905), but without much success. Page 129: On the 
Freydis incident see Stefan Einarsson in Ada Philologica 
Scandinavica XIII (1938-9) , 246-56. Page 131: On 
Gudrid and the witchcraft scene see Dag Stromback, Sejd 
(Stockholm, 1935) , 49-60. 

WHERE WAS VINLAND? Page 135: The following are 
some of the most important works which have advanced 
original theories on the location of Vinland on the basis 
of sound and admissible evidence: Gustav Storm (previ- 
ously cited) , 1887; John Fiske, The Discovery of America 
(2 vols., Boston, 1892) ; M. L. Fernald, Notes on the 
Plants of Wineland the Good (Rhodora, Vol. 12, Bos- 

Notes and References 177 

ton, 1910) ; William H. Babcock, Early Norse Visits to 
North America (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 
Washington, D. C., 1913) ; William Hovgaard, The Voy- 
ages of the Norsemen to America (New York, 1914) ; Fin- 
nur Jonsson, Opdagelsen af ogRejserne til Vinland (Aar~ 
bfigerfor nor disk Oldkyndighed, Copenhagen, 1915) ; H. 
P. Steensby, The Norsemen's Route from Greenland to 
Wineland (Meddelelser om Grtfnland, Copenhagen, 
1917) ; G. M. Gathorne-Hardy, The Norse Discoverers of 
America (Oxford, 1921) ; Matthias Thordarson, The V in- 
land Voyages (American Geographical Society, Research 
Series No. 18, New York, 1930) ; M. Mjelde, The Norse 
Discoveries of America (Saga-Book of the Viking Society, 
London, 1928-29) ; Halldor Hermannsson, The Problem 
of Wineland (Ithaca, New York, 1936) ; A. W. Br0gger, 
V inlands fer dene (Oslo, 1937) . Of historical interest are 
also the solutions offered by Tormod Torfaeus in His- 
toria Vinlandiae antiquae, sen partis Americae septen- 
trionalis (Copenhagen, 1705; English translation, New 
York, 1891) and by Carl Christian Rafn in Antiquitates 
Americanae sive Scriptores Septentrionales Rerum Ante- 
Columbianarum in America (Copenhagen, 1837). Page 
136: The Canadian journalist is James W. Curran, Here 
-was Vinland, America's Strangest Story (Sault Ste. Marie, 
Canada, 1939) . Page 137: The statement by Finnur 
Jonsson appears in Den oldnorske og oldislandske Littera- 
tursHistorie (Copenhagen, 1902) , III, 80. Page 141: On 
eyktarstad. The 4gth-degree solution was worked out by 
the Norwegian astronomer Hans Geelmuyden; a new so- 
lution, proposed by M. Mjelde in 1922, brings it down 
to the 37th degree. Page 143: The theory that these ele- 
ments were drawn from classic tales of the Fortunate Isles 
was launched by the great Norwegian explorer Fridtjof 
Nansen, In Northern Mists (London, 1911), but has 

Notes and References 

found little support. Page 143: An etymology of Vinland 
varying from the usual one, by which vin should mean 
6 meadow/ instead of ' wine ' or ' vine/ is impossible for a 
number of reasons, as shown by Finnur Jonsson in Norsk 
Historisk Tidsskrift (Oslo, 1911) .Page 144* the southern 
limit of the salmon is established from information found 
in Check List of the Fishes and Fishlike Vertebrates of 
North and Middle America by D. S. Jordan, W. Ever- 
mann, H. W. Clark (Document 1055, United States Bu- 
reau of Fisheries Report, 19*8) . Page 144- Etymology of 
skraeling taken from Alf Torp, Nynorsk etymologisk ord- 
bok (Oslo, 1919) ; it is much to be preferred over the Es- 
kimo origin suggested by Thalbitzer. 

IN SEARCH OF RELICS. Page 146: Reeves' comment on 
Rafn is very apt: ". . . He has seriously qualified the 
credit to which he is entitled by the extravagant theories 
and hazardous statements to which he gave currency, and 
which have prejudiced many readers against the credibil- 
ity of the records themselves/' (Op. cit., 98) . Page 146: 
Thomas W. Higginson wrote in Harper's Magazine, 1883 
(Vol. 65, 515-^7) , repeated in his Larger History of the 
United States (New York, 1886), 58-51. Page 148: The 
Dighton Rock has been made the subject of a brilliant 
work by Edmund Burke Delabarre, Dighton Rock. A 
Study of the Written Rocks of New England (New York, 
19*8) . Most of the information here given is drawn from 
his study. Page 151 : On the Newport Tower see J. G. Pal- 
frey, History of New England (Boston, 1858) , 57-9; a pic- 
ture of a stone mill at Chesterton, England, almost identi- 
cal to the Newport Tower is reprinted in the Higginson 
article cited above. At the very time this book goes to 
press, a new and challenging study of the Newport Tower 
has just appeared: Philip Ainsworth Means, Newport 
Tower (New York, 1945) . This writer, an Associate in 

Notes and References iyo 

Anthropology at Harvard's Peabody Museum, claims to 
have destroyed the generally accepted theory, thereby 
opening the possibility that the tower was not originally a 
windmill. Although Mr. Means does not assert its viking 
origin, he believes there is a strong chance that excavations 
may support this theory. Simultaneously the problem has 
been attacked by Mr. Holand, who reaches similar conclu- 
sions and inevitably attributes the tower to the Paul Kmit- 
son expedition, presumably on its way to Minnesota to 
make the Kensington Stone. Like so many theories of Vin- 
land, these contain more guesswork than fact; but the vistas 
are undeniably intriguing! Page 153: A description of 
Horsfords 7 excavations will be found in his Leifs Houses 
in V inland (Boston, 1893), one of the many expensive 
publications which he issued. Page 156: The rock on No 
Man's Land is discussed and interpreted in Edward F. 
Gray, Leif Eriksson, Discoverer of America A.D. 1003 
(New York, 1 930) ; in spite of his great interest in the rock, 
however, Mr. Gray does not believe that it can be adduced 
" as scientific evidence to corroborate the view that No 
Man's Land was the winter headquarters of the Vinland 
Expeditions." Page 156: The classic presentation of the 
evidence for the Kensington Stone is Mr. Holand's West- 
ward from Vinland (New York, 1940) ; in spite of its elo- 
quence and undeniable value, it has not cleared away all 
the objections of scholars. Pages 157-58: The works here 
referred to are Reider T. Sherwin, The Viking and the 
Red Man (New York, 1940) ; William B. Goodwin, The 
Truth about Leif Ericsson and the Greenland Voyages to 
New England (Boston, 1941) ; Olaf Strandwold, Runic 
Rock Inscriptions along the American Atlantic Seaboard 
(Prosser, Washington, 1939) . An earlier effort of similar 
validity is Thomas E. Pickett, The Quest for a Lost Race 
(Louisville, Kentucky, 1907) . 

Notes and References 

RESULTS AND SIGNIFICANCE. Page 162: From maps and 
treatises it clearly appears that Greenland was believed to 
be continuous with the European continent; see Reeves, 
Op. cit., 15 ff. Page 162: The early references to Vinland 
are gathered in Reeves, Op. cit., 92 ff., and in Georg Fried- 
erici, Der Charakter der Entdeckung und Eroberung 
Amerikas durch die Europder (Stuttgart, 1936) , III, 54. 
The Danish clergyman was Glaus Lyschander. A transla- 
tion o Hugo Grotius's Dissertatio de origine gentium 
Americanarum appeared in Edinburgh in 1884 (On the 
Origin of the Native Races of America} . Page 163: Jens 
Munk's story of his voyage, Navigatio Septentrionalis, was 
republished and edited by P. Lauridsen (Copenhagen, 
1883) . Page 163: Finn Magnusen's statement appeared in 
Athene (Copenhagen, 1813) . Page 163: The story of the 
Columbus-Leif Ericson theory is outlined briefly in 
Br0gger, Vinlandsferdene, iSgff. (who does not believe 
that anything Columbus might have learned from the Ice- 
landers would have been of any value to him) . Malte- 
Brun's theory was tentatively presented in his Precis de la 
geographic universelle (Paris, 1810 ff.) . Lowell's poem is 
entitled "Columbus" (Poetical Works, 1896, p. 485). 
Page 165: This problem is the chief subject matter of 
Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Ultima Thule (New York, 1940) . 
Page 166: The latest discussion is in Samuel Eliot Mori- 
son, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (2 vols., Boston, 194*) , I, 
32-35; Morison reaches the same conclusion as the one 
here presented, previously advanced by the Norwegian 
historians Gustav Storm and A. W. Br0gger. But Morison 
as in error when he refers to the theory as a " new ' Nordic ' 
myth "; it is neither new nor specially Nordic. Page 166: 
On the likelihood that a Norwegian expedition on Portu- 
guese initiative sailed to Labrador in the 1470*8 see Br0g- 
ger, Vinlandsferdene, 175 ff.; it is associated with such 

Notes and References 181 

names as Pining, Pothorst, and Johannes Scolvus, and is 
surrounded with much uncertainty. Pages 16667: The 
Norwegian-American poem was written by Ole Rynning, 
and is available in Theodore C. Blegen and Martin B. 
Ruud, Norwegian Emigrant Songs and Ballads (Minne- 
apolis, 1936) , 24 ff. Page 167: The quotation from P. A. 
Munch appeared in Alumuevennen (Oslo, 1850) . Page 
167: The fashion in American textbooks may have been 
set by George Bancroft, who in his History of the United 
States (Vol. I, 1834) wrote: " The story of the coloniza- 
tion of America by Northmen rests on narratives mytho- 
logical in form, and obscure in meaning, ancient yet not 


Adam of Bremen 97-100, 102, 142, 
143, 160, 164 

Alexandria, Minnesota 156, 157 

Algonquin 157 

Alptafjord 51 

AM. 557, 410. 113 

America 106, 117, 125, 126, 130, 
132-137, 145* M 6 * H 8 ' *54 l6o > 
162, 163 

America Not Discovered by Co- 
lumbus 167 

Amsterdam 162 

Anderson, Rasmus B. 167 

Antiquitates Americanae 146 

Ari Thorgilsson " The Wise," 102, 

Arnamagnean Library 113 

Arnarstapi 33, 34, 38 

Arnold, Governor Benedict 151 

Asbj^rnsen, Sigvald 168 

Aslak of Longdale 4 

Atlantic Ocean 105, 117, 121, 124, 
132, 166 

Atlantic seaboard 135, 136, 154, 156 

Atlantis 164 

Audun of the West Tjords 99 

Avalldama 76 

Avilldudida 76 

Babcock, William H. 139 
Baffin's Land 139 
Baltic Sea 152 
Bard 7 

Bear Island 57, 139 
Bear Isles 57 
Beothuk Indians 145 
Berkeley, George 148 
Biglow Papers 150-151 
Bjami Grimolfson, joins Karlsevni 
51, 54, 61, 65, 75; death 79-80; 

discussion 128, 131; Lowell's sat- 
ire 151 

Bjarni Herjulfson, sights America 
7-11, 15, 17, 18; discussion ix, 
113, 125, 137-140, 164 

Bjorn, Bishop 92 

Bjorn, son of Karlsevni 92 

Bjorn Brynjolfson 106 

Bjorne, erroneous form for Bjarni 
(Herjulfson) 164 

Black Death 123, 161 

Black-sark 5 

Book of Settlement 3, 104 

Borgf jord 5 

Boston 142, 153, 154 

Boston Back Bay 141, 153 

Bradford, Massachusetts 155 

Brand, Bishop 92 

Brattahlid, Eric's farm in Green- 
land, spelling x; settled 5; other 
references 12, 14, 17, 25, 44, 48, 
52-54; excavations 121 

Breidabolstead 4 

Bremen 91, 97, 102, 142 

Bristol, England 166 

British Isles 105 

Broadfjord x, 5, 37, 51, 113 

Br0gger, A. W. 114 

Brokey 3 

Brooklyn 168 

Bull, Ole 168 

cabhail 58 

Cabot, John 132, 166 

Calder, A. Stirling 168 

Calmar, Union of 161 

Canada 143 

Canute [Knut] the Great 98 

Cape Cod 142, 144 

Carder, Jacques 133, 143, 144 



Chaleur Bay 140 

Champlain 143 

Chicago v, ix, 168 

Christian IV, King of Denmark 
and Norway 162 

Christianity, introduced in Ice- 
land 6, 101, 102, 106; in Green- 
land 13, 14, 120-121 

Christiern II, King of Denmark 
and Norway 123 

Columbus ix, 123, 161; supposed 
familiarity with Norse discov- 
eries 163166 

Copenhagen, manuscripts in 112, 

Crossness 30 

Cu Chulainn 129 

dagmdlastad 141 

Davis, John 124 

Davis Strait 126, 129 

Delabarre, Edmund Burke 154 

Delaware 144, 145 

Denmark 99, 102, 122, 160-163 

Denys 143 

Dighton Writing Rock 148-149, 

*54> *57 
Dimun's Bay 4 
dcegr 138 
Drangar 3, 4 
Drepstock 7 
Dublin 80, 106 

East Fjords 83 

Eastern Settlement (Greenland) 

5, 120, 123, 129 
Eastfjord 51 
Edda, the Elder, 122; the Younger, 


Egede, Hans 124 
Einar of Thorgeir's Fell 33-34, 37, 

Einarsson, Stefdn 129 

England 106, 161, 166 

Ephraim, Wisconsin 156 

Eric the Red, explores and settles 
Greenland 3-6, 117121; chil- 
dren 12; resistance to conversion 
14, 130; falls off horse 19, 131; 
entertains Karlsevni 51-53, 128; 
other references 7, 25, 37, 44, 46, 
54, 57, 76; discussion 103, 113, 
114, 116, 126, 127, 150, 154 

Eric's Bay 4 

Eric's Holm 5 

Eric's Island 5 

Ericsfjord 5, 14, 25, 30, 45, 48, 51, 

Ericsstead 3, 4 

Eskimos, mode of life 121-124; in- 
vasion of Norse settlements 123; 
other allusions 129, 133, 144 

eyktarstad 21, 141 

Eyolf from Sviney 4 

Eyolf the Filthy 3 

Eyrar 8 

Fairmount Park, Philadelphia 168 

Fall River, Massachusetts 151 

Faroe Islands 105, 106, 125 

Fernald, M. L. 144 

Fernando, Columbus' son 164 

Finland 99 

Finnbogi 83, 84, 87 

Fiske, John 136, 142 

Flatey 113 

Flatey Book 112, 113, 129 

Fortunate Isles 143 

France 106, 161, 162 

Freydis, Eric's daughter 54; fright- 
ens savages 72, 73; expedition to 
Vinland 83-88, 114, 129-130 

Gardar 12, 83, 120 
Gathorne-Hardy, G. vi, viii, 113, 




Geirstein 3 

Gerry's Landing 141, 153 

Gilbert, Mrs. J. F. 168 

Glaumbo 91, 92 

Gray, Edward 142 

Greater Ireland 76, 115 

Greenland, discovery and settle- 
ment 3-6, 103-104; origin of 
name 5, 119; introduction of 
Christianity 14, 131; history of 
Norse settlements 117-124; con- 
tact re-established in modern 
times 162; numerous other ref- 

Greenland Saga, differences from 
Karlsevni Saga 113-116; Chapter 
2, 7-11; Chapter 4, 17-25; Chap- 
ter 5, 26-30; Chapter 8, 45-48; 
quoted 57, 71; Chapter 13, 83- 
89; Chapter 14, 91-92; chronol- 
ogy 126-130; discussion 131, 137, 
139-140, 142, 144 

Gregory VII 98 

Grotius, Hugo 162 

Gudrid, daughter of Thorbjorn 12; 
emigrates from Iceland 33-38; 
helps Witch 39-43; married to 
Thorstein Ericson 45-48; mar- 
ried to Karlsevni 51-53; at 
Streamfjord 75; return to Ice- 
land 91-92; discussion 114, 130- 

iS 1 

Gudrid, wife of Thori 25 
Gulf of St. Lawrence 128, 129, 138, 


Gunnbjorn 4, 118, 125 
Gunnbjorn's Reefs 5, 118 

Haki 55, 57, 58, 115 
Halldis 33, 38, 43 
Hallfrid 92 
Hallgerd 130 
Hamburg 97 

Harvard 146, 153 

Hauk Erlendson 113 

Hank's Book 113 

Hawkdale x, 3, 118 

Hebrides 7, 12, 13, 91, 105, 115, 

Heimskringla 114 

Hekja 55, 57-58, 115 

Helgi 83, 84 

Helluland, named by Leif 18; 
named by Karlsevni 57; discus- 
sion x, 127, 139, 150 

Herjulf 7, 8, 11 

Herjulfsness 8, 11, 38 

Hermannsson, Halld6r 114, 140 

Higginson, Thomas W.' 146 

Holand, Hjalmar Ruud 156 

Holiday Press vi 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell 168 

Hop 65, 75, 76, 141 

Hornstrands 3 

Horsford, Eben 141, 153 

Hovgaard, William 114, 115, 136, 


Hraunhofn [Lava Harbor] x, 38 
Hudson Bay 136 
Hudson, Henry 133, 143 
Humboldt Park, Chicago 168 
husasnotra 91 
Hvarfsgnipa 5 

Iceland 3, 4 et passim 

Illugi 4 

Indians, appearance in sagas, 66 ft; 
discussion 115, 129-134; identity 
with Skraelings 144, 145; rock 
carvings 149, 154; see also Skrael- 

Ingolf at Holmlatr 5 

Ingolf, first settler in Iceland 7 

Ireland 45, 62, 79, So, 106, 138 

Jadar 3 

Jon Hakonarson 113 



Jonsson, Arngrimur 162 
J6nsson, Einar 168 
Jonsson, Finnur 114, 137 
Jorand Ulfson 3 
Juneau Park, Milwaukee 168 

Karlsevni, spelling x; meaning of 
nickname 5 1 ; married to Gudrid 
51-53; expedition to Vinland 
54-80; return to Greenland 76, 
83; return to Iceland 88, 91-92; 
discussion 106, 113-114, 122, 
128-129, 133, i37-i4 H5 1 49> 

Karlsevni Saga, differences from 
Greenland Saga 113-116; Chap- 
ter 3, 12-14; Chapter 6, 33-38; 
Chapter 7, 39-44; Chapter 8, 
45-48; Chapter 9, 51-53; Chap- 
ter 10, 54-65; Chapter 11, 66-76; 
Chapter 12, 79-80; Chapter 14, 
91-93; chronology 126-128; dis- 
cussion 133, 137, 139-140, 143- 

Keelness 31, 57, 61, 62, 75, 140 

Kensington Stone 156-157 

Krogh, Christian 168 

Labrador 127, 128, 138-140, 144, 


Laing, Samuel vi, vii, 157 

Lanier, Sidney 150 

Lapps 129 

Laugarbrekka 34 

Lava Harbor [Hraunhofn] 38 

Leif Ericson, spelling viii-ix; voy- 
age to Norway 12-14; rescues 
men ori reef 14, 22; called ' the 
Lucky* 14, 127; explores Vin- 
land 17-25; disapproves of Frey- 
dis's actions 88; other references 
vii, 26, 30, 45, 57, 83, 84; discus- 
sion 113, 115, 120, 126, 127, 130, 

137-141, 145, 150, 154, 156, 158, 

164, 167-169 
Leif Ericson Memorial Association 


Leif Ericson statues 168 
Leifsbooth (see Leif s camp) 150 
Leif s camp 26, 29, 141, 150, 153 
Lescarbot 143 
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 

152, 168 
Lowell, James Russell 150-151, 

Lysuf jord 46 

Magnusen, Finn 148, 149, 163 

Maine 145 

Malte-Brun, Johannes 163 

Mandan Indians 157 

Markland, spelling x; named by 

Leif 18; named by Karlsevni 57; 

capture of savages 76; ship from. 

104; probable identifications 

127-128, 139-140; timber 134; 

literary allusion 150 
Martha's Vineyard 142 
Massachusetts 136, 140, 148, 151, 

154-156, 158 

Mather, Cotton no, 148, 154 
Micmac Indians 145 
Mid-Glacier 5 
Middle West 148, 157 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 168 
Minnesota 156-158, 168 
Mjelde, M. M. 136 
mosur 14, 91, 144 
Mount Hope Bay 141 
Munch, P. A. 167 
Munk, Jens 162 

Naddod 125 

New Brunswick 140, 143 
New England 126, 127, 129, 136, 
138-140, 143, 145, 147, 148, 157 


New England poets 148 

New York 136 

Newfoundland 126-128, 136, 138, 

139. Hi* 143* H5 
Newport tower 151, 152 
Nibelungs 122 

No Man's Land, Massachusetts 156 
N0rlund, Poul 123 
Normandy 106 
North Dakota 157 
Northman's Written Rock 155 
Northwest Passage 162 
Norumbega 153, 154 
Norway 3, 7 et passim 
Nova Scotia 126, 127, 129, 133, 136, 

138, 140, 145 

Odd at Jorvi 3 

Ojibwa Indians 132 

Olaf Haraldson, King of Norway 

Olaf Trygvason, King of Norway 

12-14, 57> ll %> 126-127 
Orkneys 106 

Orm of Arnarstapi 33-38 
Ortelius, Abraham 162 
Osvald 3 
Oxney 3 
Ox-Thorix, 3 

Pagan elements 12, 43, 61, 131 
Passamaquoddy Bay 143, 145 
Philadelphia 168 
Phoenicians 148 
Plutarch 129 

Portsmouth, Rhode Island 154 
Portsmouth Harbor 158 
Portugal 161 

Rafn, Carl Christian 136, 141, 146, 

149-151, 163, 167 
Raglan, Lord 109 
Raven the Fighter 3 

Ravensf jord 5 

Reeves, Arthur Middleton viviii 

Reykjaness 7 

Reyniness 51 

Rhode Island 136, 141, 151, 154 

Rome 92, 130, 164 

Royal Danish Society of Northern 

Antiquaries 146, 150 
Runes 101, 102, 121, 149, 156 

Saga of Burnt Njal 130 
Saga of Eric the Red (here re- 
ferred to as the Karlsevni Saga) 


Saga of the Ere-Dwellers 4 

Sagas, kinds and origin of, reliabil- 
ity 107111 

Saxony 91 

Schoolcraft, H. R. 132 

Scotland 12, 106 

Scots 5758, 115, 142 

Shetlands 105, 106, 125 

Sigrid 46, 47 

Binding, P. C. 149 

Skagafjord 51, 91 

Skeleton in Armor 152 

Skraelings, earliest allusion 103; in 
the saga 6677; identity 132134; 
origin of term 144; other allu- 
sions 115, 149 

Snorri, Karlsevni's son, born in 
Vinland 76, 92, 93, 130 

Snorri Sturluson 114, 141 

Snorri the Chief 4 

Snorri Thorbrandson, joins Karls- 
evni 52, 54, 62, 66, 71, 72, 75 

Snowfell 5 

Snowfell-Glacier 5 

Snowfellsness 35 

Sogn 106 

Song of the Breakers 7 

Spain 161, 165 

Steensby, H. P. 136, 139 



Stefansson, Vilhjalmur 165 

St. Lawrence River 136, 140 

Stockness 44 

Storm, Gustav 114, 136, 139, 147, 


Strait of Belle Isle 128 
Stream Isle 58 
Streamfjord 58, 61, 75, 76, 129, 132, 

138, 140, 142, 158 
Studies in the Finland Voyages 147 
Styr 4 
Sudrey x, 4 

Svein Estridson 98, 99 
Sweden 122, 161 

Tale of the Greenlanders (here re- 
ferred to as the Greenland Saga) 


Taunton River 150 
Thjodhild, Eric's wife i, 14 
Thor 61, 130 

Thorbjorg the Shipbreasted 3 
Thorbjorg the Witch 39-44 
Thorbjorn, father of Gudrid, emi- 
grates from Iceland 33-38, 44, 54 
Thorbjorn of Hawkdale 3 
Thorbjorn Vifilson 4 
Thorbrand, father of Snorri 51 
Thorbrand, son of Snorri 72 
Thorbrand of Swandale 4 
Thord Horsehead 51 
Thord the Yeller 4 
Th6r$arson, Matthias 114, 136 
Thorfmn Karlsevni, see Karlsevni 
Thorgeir, son of Snorri 92 
Thorgeir of Hitterdale 4 
Thorgeir of Thorgeir's Fell 33 
Thorgeir's Fell 33 
Thorgerd 7 
Thorgest 4, 5 
Thorgils, Leif's son 13 
Thorgunna 12, 13 
Thorhall Gamlason 51, 54 

Thorhall the Hunter, joins Karls- 
evni 54; practises magic 61; 
makes verses, leaves Karlsevni 
62; lost 62, 75; discussion 115, 
128, 129, 130, 138 

Thori 25, 26 

Thorkel 38-43 

Thorlak, Bishop 92 

Thorsness 4 

Thorstein Ericson 12; marries 
Gudrid 45; attempts a voyage to 
Vinland 45-46; dies 4649; dis- 
cussion 127, 131 

Thorstein the Black 46-49 

Thorunn, granddaughter of Karls- 
evni 92 

Thorunn, mother of Karlsevni 51 

Thorvald, Eric's father 3, 118 

Thorvald Ericson vii, 12; voyage 
to Vinland 26-31; other refer- 
ences 45, 76, 114; discussion 127, 
137, 138, 140, 149 

Thorvard, husband of Freydis 12, 

54, 81, 87 
Thule 164 
Tile see Thule 
Tiverton, Rhode Island 154 
Torfaeus, Tormod 163 
Tradar 3 
Trondheim 126 
Tyrker, on Leifs expedition 17; 

finds grapes 21-23; discussion 

vii, 115, 130, 154 

Ulf, son of Ox-Thori 3 
Ulf the Crow 4 
University of Wisconsin 168 
Uvege 76 

Valthjof 3 

Valthjof s Stead 3 

Vethilldi 76 

Viking, probable origin 105 



Vinland, explored by Leif 1723; 
named by Leif 22; sought by 
Xhorstein Ericson 45; called 
" the Good " 54, 134; earliest 
reference (Adam of Bremen) 
98-99; confused with Finland 
99; referred to by Ari 103; in the 
Book of Settlement 104; discus- 
sion of voyages made 125131; 
purpose of voyages 131; prob- 
able location 135145; other al- 
lusions x, 26, 61, 74, 83, 91, 92, 
111, 113-115, 150, 156, 161, 162, 
164, 165; see also Winland 

Virginia 136, 142, 149 

Vog 7 

Warlocks 40, 43 

Washington, George 148-149, 151 

Waterhorn 3 

West Newbury, Massachusetts 154 

Western Settlement (Greenland) 

46, 57, 120, 123, 128, 138 
White Men's Land 76 
Whitney, Anne 167 
Whittier, J. G. 154-155, 159. 
Wilbur, Homer, M. A. 150 
William of Normandy 97 
Winland 98, 99 (see Vinland) 
Wisconsin 156, 168 
Witchcraft (see Pagan elements) 

39 ff., 131 
Wonderstrands x, 57, 58, 61, 62, 


Yngvid 92 


The text of this book was set on the Linotype in Baskerville. 
The punches for this face were cut under the supervision of 
George W. Jones an eminent English printer. Linotype Bas- 
kerville is a facsimile cutting from type cast from the original 
matrices of a face designed by John Baskerville. The original 
face was one of the forerunners of the " modern " group of 
type faces. 

Typography and binding designs by W . A. Dwiggins. Com- 
posed., printed, and bound by The Plimpton Press, Norwood^ 


" NE of the most exciting stories of early 
America is that of the vikings who settled the 
shores of New England five centuries before 
Columbus sailed westward. Yet most of us 
think of those Norsemen's voyages as hardly 
more than poetic legends, stirring ta read but 
far off in time, vague in outline, and full 
of improbable imaginings. In this remarkable 
book Einar Haugen dears away the mists of 
legend and tells us, as far as any man can tell 
us today, what actually happened. 

As a first step, he has made a new transla- 
tion, into plain modern English, of the Ice- 
landic sagas which tell of the discovery and set- 
tlement of Vinland the Good the Greenland 
Saga, Thorfinn Karlsevni's Saga and its twin, 
the Saga of Eric the Red. These he has pieced 
together into a straightaway running narra- 
tive, the story of Vinland told by the vikings 
themselves. It is a story by turns exciting, 
bloody, naive, and deeply moving. Yet it is al- 
ways a tale of simple men embarked on high 
adventure, told as simple men would tell it 

To this original viking account, Professor 
Haugen has added extensive commentaries of 
his own, shrewdly critical chapters which dis- 
cuss the probable accuracy of the sagas, and 
tell of the Vinland legend as it developed in 
later, days. He shows why tidings of the new 
land did not gain more currency in medieval 
Europe, and how these old stories may or may 
not have influenced Columbus. He tells of the 
Jsforse "relics" that stirred New England a 
century ago the Skeleton in Armor, the New- 
port Round Tower, and all the others, die 
fakes, the mistakes, " the few that are perhaps 
genuine. He lielps us, in short, to see the 
vikings in America clear and true, as the sim- 
ple and fugged men they were. 

A strange book this, and one that fires the 
imagination as few other works of such scholar- 
ship could do. ; Whether your interest lies in 
the antiquities of America, or merely in a good 
story excitingly told,, you will find it worth 
your reading. And the 20 two-color woodi-cuts 
immeasurably to your pleasure in this fine and 
finelv-oroduced vokttnej 

1 34 947